President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are expected to agree to at least a limited resumption of direct military communications when the two world leaders meet in San Francisco.
The meeting, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' summit, will cap months of careful diplomatic efforts by a range of senior administration officials to lay the groundwork for resuming head-of-state talks after a breakdown in relations. . caused by the downing of a Chinese-owned spy plane off the US East Coast.
The last time Biden and Xi met in person was in November 2022, during the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia.
But the two leaders, who have met about a dozen times during their tenures in high office, have not exchanged a word since.
About three months later, the Sino-US relationship hit a snag over the hot air balloon incident, which derailed a planned visit to Beijing by Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken.
At the time, a senior State Department official said the department had “concluded that conditions are not appropriate at this time for Secretary Blinken to travel to China,” after what the official described as “consultations” with the Congress and “interagency partners.”
Four months passed with little high-level contact between Washington and Beijing, except for a meeting between Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference a few weeks later.
But the Biden administration's efforts to turn the temperature down began to bear some fruit in early May, after US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said the US was “ready to talk” during a public event in which he said he hoped Beijing “would meet us halfway. because the US was now ready for what he described as “a broader cabinet-level engagement”.
That commitment appeared to begin a few weeks later, when White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan traveled to Vienna for what the administration described as “frank” and “constructive” talks with Mr. Wang.
A White House readout of the two days of meetings said the discussions were “part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and manage competition responsibly” and said both sides “had frank, meaningful and constructive discussions on key issues in the US – China's bilateral relations, global and regional security issues, Russia's war against Ukraine, and issues in the Straits, among other issues.”
Mr Blinken made his previously delayed visit to Beijing in June, meeting with Mr Xi and Mr Wang, among other top Chinese officials.
His trip there followed two visits to China by top US officials the following month.
First up was Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who met with her Chinese counterpart, Vice Premier He Lifeng, and said the US was seeking “healthy economic relations with China that benefit both countries over time.”
Later that month, former Secretary of State John Kerry — now Biden's presidential climate envoy — traveled to Beijing for three days of talks with Chinese officials that he described as “productive.”
Two months later, another Biden cabinet official — Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — made the trip to China for more economic talks.
But while any meeting between Biden and Xi at APEC was widely expected, US and Chinese officials remained coy about the possibility, even as Mr Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, wrapped up a multi-day mutual visit in the US with a meeting with Mr. Biden at the White House on October 27.
At the time, a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the meeting said the discussions included plans for “additional high-level engagements” between the U.S. and China — including meetings between top officials, but did not specifically say that one was underway state level meeting.
Biden's meeting with Xi follows a defiant move by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year.
On August 4 last year, more than 700,000 people around the world watched a US Air Force plane take Ms Pelosi from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.
It was the first visit by a US House speaker to the self-governing island, which the People's Republic of China claims as its own territory, since then-President Newt Gidrich went there in the mid-1990s.
In response, Beijing has conducted a series of close-range military drills, including live-fire drills in Taiwan's territorial waters and air defense reconnaissance zone.
The Chinese government also criticized the U.S. for suspending bilateral talks on combating climate change and cutting off all dialogue between the U.S. Department of Defense and the People's Liberation Army, including bilateral talks between regional commanders and between top U.S. and Chinese defense officials, as well as regular communications on military and maritime security, returning illegal immigrants, criminal investigations, transnational crime, and illegal drugs.
The lack of communication between the US and DPRK defense installations continued until the face-to-face meeting between the presidents.