When Joe Biden and Xi Jinping first got to know each other more than 10 years ago, the US and China had been moving closer for three decades despite their differences.
“The trajectory of the relationship is nothing but positive, and it’s overwhelmingly in the mutual interest of both our countries,” Biden said in 2011 when, as vice president, he visited Beijing to build a personal relationship with China’s then leader-in-waiting.
Seated next to Xi in a Beijing hotel, Biden told a room of Chinese and American business leaders about his “great optimism about the next 30 years” for bilateral relations and praised Xi for being “straightforward.”
“Only friends and equals can serve each other by being straightforward and honest with them,” he said.
During that getting-to-know-you trip to China in 2011, the two leaders shared a marathon of meetings and meals in Beijing and the southwestern city of Chengdu. They also took a trip deep into the green mountains of Sichuan province to visit a rural high school rebuilt after a deadly earthquake.
The next year, Xi paid a reciprocal visit to the US at the invitation of Biden, who hosted his Chinese counterpart for dinner at his residency after a series of meetings at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon. Biden also flew to Los Angeles to meet Xi on the last leg of his trip.
Continued rapport: Their in-person encounters continued after Xi took power in 2012 — Biden has claimed that as vice president, he spent north of 70 hours with Xi and traveled 17,000 miles with him across China and the United States – both exaggerations, but still reflective of a relationship that is now perhaps the most important on the planet.
The last time they met face to face was in 2015, during Xi’s first state visit to the US as China’s top leader, while Biden was still vice president.
Shifting ties: But as relations between their countries plummeted, the once friendly dynamics between the two leaders have also shifted.
Xi is an ideological hardliner who believes in China’s return to the center of the world stage and is skeptical – some would say hostile – toward America. Biden, meanwhile, has grown increasingly weary of China’s authoritarian turn under Xi, and has framed the rivalry between the two countries as a battle between autocracy and democracy.
Last summer, Biden publicly pushed back on being described as an “old friend” of Xi’s.
“Let’s get something straight. We know each other well; we’re not old friends. It’s just pure business,” he said at the time.
Read more about the Biden-Xi relationship here.