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Biden prepares for Monday's high-stakes virtual summit with Xi Jinping

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden is known to prefer meeting other leaders face to face. But when he meets China's leader Xi Jinping tonight, it's going to be a virtual get-together. The White House says areas where the U.S. and China compete and where they have common interests are all on the virtual table. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins us here to help us understand it all. Scott, you've reported on this quite a lot. Biden does really seem to prefer face-to-face meetings, so why is this one happening online?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Yeah. In addition to that, just about every single time China comes up, Biden will point out how much time he and Xi have spent together in person back when Biden was vice president. There had been a lot of talk about doing this in person, maybe around the two summits that Biden just traveled to in Europe, but Xi has not left China since the pandemic began. So at a certain point, that just wasn't an option. They've talked on the phone a few times this year. Those have been long conversations. The White House insists that this will feel more like a summit than yet another phone call. And a big part of that is because there's been a lot of buildup to this, a lot of conversation and meetings ahead of this, including a recent call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterpart. And the White House says all of that is actually a big part of the point here. They just want to communicate with China more, given the increased tension going on right now between the two countries.

MARTINEZ: So what are they going to talk about?

DETROW: A lot of stuff. A few goals for the meeting, on the tension side, Biden - the White House says Biden is going to address what the U.S. sees as what they call areas of concern. That's everything from human rights to trade tensions to what the White House calls coercive and provocative steps that China has recently taken toward Taiwan. And at the same time, officials in both Biden and Xi's orbit insist the two men want to focus on areas where the two countries can cooperate. Climate change is an example of that. They just announced a new agreement to work together to cut emissions. Biden was recently asked about how things can be cooperative at the same time that they're tense.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There's no reason there need be conflict. But I've also indicated to him and I've - so I don't - I'm not reluctant to say it publicly - that we expect him to play by the rules of the road. We're not going to change our attitude toward what constitutes international airspace, international sea lanes, et cetera.

DETROW: And one thing not on this very long agenda is probably the biggest issue facing Biden right now, and that's the supply chain crunch. Officials say they do not expect that to be part of the conversation.

MARTINEZ: It hasn't even been a year yet, but can President Biden point to any successes on China since he took office?

DETROW: There's a few and, certainly, maybe more than on the domestic front right now, where Biden is struggling. One thing he can point to is something he's doing today - signing that trillion-dollar infrastructure bill into law. Way back in March - it's hard to remember - when Biden first rolled out this package, he argued one of the reasons to invest in broadband and roads and bridges and other infrastructure is to try and keep pace with China. So this law signed today will be a big part of that. He's also tried to rally major democracies around spending more money funding projects in the developing world to try to counter the trillions of dollars China has been spending in places like Africa and Asia and even Latin America. Biden has also tried to build up the U.S. relationship with Australia and Japan and India to counter some of China's more aggressive actions in the Pacific. That was a big key reason for that controversial nuclear submarine deal with Australia from a few months ago.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks a lot.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.