Biden and Xi meet ahead of G20, Musk addresses business forum by candlelight

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping is due to arrive on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday for a long-awaited meeting with US President Joe Biden ahead of a Group of 20 (G20) summit fraught with tension over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two leaders are expected to discuss the nuclear ambitions of Taiwan, Ukraine and North Korea, issues that will also surface at the G20, which opens Tuesday without Russian President Vladimir Putin in attendance.

Billionaire Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and Twitter Inc, addressed a business forum part of the summit and said he has “too much work” on his plate.

Speaking via video link, he appeared in the candlelight wearing a tie-dye shirt sent by organizers. He said he was talking about a place that just had no power.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent the Russian president at the G20 summit – the first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February – after the Kremlin said Putin was too busy to attend.

On the eve of Monday’s meeting with Xi, Biden told Asian leaders in Cambodia that US communication lines with China would remain open to prevent conflict, with tough talks almost certain in the coming days.

The United States would “vigorously compete” with China while “ensuring that competition does not spill over into conflict,” Biden said, stressing the importance of peace across the Taiwan Strait during an address ahead of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia. He arrived in Bali on Sunday evening.

Relations between the superpowers have fallen to their lowest levels in decades, marred in recent years by rising tensions over a variety of issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, trade practices and US restrictions on Chinese technology.

But US officials said both Beijing and Washington have been making quiet efforts over the past two months to repair ties.

“These meetings are not happening in isolation, they are part of a very sustained process,” said a Biden administration official. “We’ve been engaged in serious, ongoing – tens and dozens of hours – behind the scenes, quiet diplomacy.

“I think we are satisfied with the seriousness that both sides have brought to this process.”

Biden and Xi, who have held five phone or video calls since Biden took office in January 2021, last met in person during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.

Monday’s face-to-face meeting will take place at The Mulia, a luxurious beachfront hotel in Nusa Dua Bay, Bali. A joint statement is unlikely, the White House said, but it could help stabilize bilateral ties.

Both leaders will attend the opening of the G20 summit on Tuesday.

“SOME DISCOMFORT”

One of the main topics at the G20 will be Russia’s war in Ukraine, and Biden will be “unapologetic” in his defense of the European nation, US officials said last week.

Xi and Putin have grown increasingly close in recent years, bound by a shared distrust of the West, reaffirming their partnership just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. But China has been careful not to provide direct material support that could trigger Western sanctions against China.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed the “irresponsibility” of nuclear threats during the Cambodia summit and implied that China could not stand the nuclear rhetoric of strategic partner Russia, the Biden administration official said.

The West has accused Russia of making irresponsible statements about the possible use of nuclear weapons since its invasion of Ukraine in February. Russia, in turn, has accused the West of “provocative” nuclear rhetoric.

“There were areas where China and Russia have worked together to deepen and broaden their ties economically,” the US official said. “But on some of these big issues, there is undoubtedly a degree of uneasiness in Beijing about what we have seen in terms of ruthless rhetoric and activity on the part of Russia.”

Russia’s Lavrov said Sunday the West was “militarizing” Southeast Asia to contain Russian and Chinese interests, setting the stage for another confrontation with Western leaders at the G20.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has announced that he will address Tuesday’s G20 meeting via video link.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Lavrov is expected to meet at the summit, a Downing Street spokesman said in a statement. He will also likely hold a bilateral meeting with Biden.

The G20 bloc, which includes a multitude of countries from Brazil to India and Germany, accounts for more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 60% of the population.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is set to address Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the parallel B20 business forum ahead of the G20 summit on Monday.

Reporting by Nandita Bose, Fransiska Nagoy, Leika Kihara and Simon Lewis in Nusa Dua; writing by Kay Johnson and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Edited by Ed Davies and Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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