Morgan Artyukhina All materialsWrite to the authorWhen US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a video chat on Monday night, Xi opened by calling Biden his “old friend.” However, the White House pushed back on that claim, saying on Tuesday that the two heads of state are nothing of the sort.”Although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting,” Xi said as part of the opening pleasantries on Monday, “I’m very happy to see my old friend.””We’ve spent an awful lot of time talking to one another, and I hope we can have a candid conversation tonight, as well,” Biden also said.While the 3.5-hour conversation was only the third time they’d spoken since Biden took office in January, the two met several times previously when Biden was vice president under Barack Obama, including once in 2011 in Sichuan before Xi had become China’s head of state. The following year, just before Xi was chosen as President Hu Jintao’s replacement, he also toured the United States with Biden, during which time they had more than 20 hours of private conversations, the New York Times reported at the time.
However, a decade later and with both men now heading nuclear superpowers on opposite sides of an increasingly polarized strategic competition, that relationship has changed. Earlier this year, Biden explicitly rejected the notion he had some friendly connection with his communist counterpart, telling a reporter that “we know each other well. We’re not old friends. It’s just pure business.”
He also referred to Xi during an April address to Congress as an “autocrat” who is “deadly earnest on [China] becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world.”That’s why on Tuesday, a Bloomberg correspondent asked White House spokesperson Andrew Bates what Xi meant by the comment.“I’m not going to speak for President Xi,” Bates said, according to the New York Post, “but like you just mentioned, you’ve heard explicitly from the president himself that he has a longstanding relationship with President Xi, they spent a great deal of time together, they are able to have candid discussions and be direct with each other, which helps them be productive. But he does not consider President Xi an old friend.”However, it seems that’s something the two sides actually agree on.”When we Chinese call someone an old friend, we mean we’ve known him for a long time,” Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing, told Reuters. “But an ‘old friend’ doesn’t necessarily mean he is still a real friend.”