The startling comment came as the pair met virtually, assisted by a translator, to discuss their country’s relationship and other global issues. But despite being bitter world rivals, President Xi appeared to shower Joe Biden in plenty of praise throughout the call. However their crunch discussions did not yield any breakthroughs on the issue of Taiwan, climate change, human rights or US/China trade.
Mr President Xi told Biden: “It’s the first time for us to meet virtually. Although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting, I’m very happy to see my old friend!”
The comments could be in reference to a press conference question from Fox News’ Peter Doocy back in June who asked if Biden would call Xi “old friend to old friend” to spur China into investigating the origins of Covid-19.
But President Biden slammed back at the suggestion, saying: “Let’s get something straight: we know each other well, we’re not old friends! It’s just pure business.”
Biden has previous claimed to travelled “17,000 miles” with Xi Jinping during his time as vice president under Barack Obama.
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Xi’s choice of words to describe his relationship with the POTUS comes in stark contrast to the way White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki characterised the US/China relationship hours before the virtual meeting.
Speaking to reporters, Ms Psaki stressed that Biden “still does not consider him an old friend” as she drew a line in the sand of where the United States stand against a growing aggressive and powerful China.
During the meeting, President Xi Jinping spoke in confident tones as he slammed how both China and the United States are at “critical stages of development”.
The Chinese premier also added that ”humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together” as he laid down his nation’s intentions.
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Mr Biden raised concerns about human rights abuses in Hong Kong and against the Uyghur ethnic group, in the northwest region of Xinjiang. But Mr Jinping stuck to the line that China views this as the US meddling in its domestic affairs.
The pair discussed US/China trade, however Reuters news agency reported reported that Mr Xi slammed the US acusing Mr Biden of “abusing the concept of national security to oppress Chinese companies”.
As for Taiwan, the Global Times, China’s state-run newspaper, said Mr Xi blamed recent US-China tensions on “repeated attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for US support for their independence agenda”.
China views Taiwan as a breakaway province that will eventually be reunified with the mainland. Although the US recognises and has formal ties with China it has also pledged to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of an attack.