BEIJING / WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 (Reuters) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping hailed US President Joe Biden as an “old friend” at the start of their first video meeting, using an expression that Biden rejected.
In China, the expression “lao peng you” connotes affection and shows a level of familiarity and trust, and when spoken by Xi, 68, reflects a shared story that dates back to August 2011, when the two had hours of conversation. and traveled to Sichuan province – before they both reached the highest office.
Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, said Xi’s use of the expression is a display of genuine goodwill.
Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for Asia under former President Barack Obama, said it was part of each leader’s quest for “high ground narrative” at the inauguration.
“Xi deliberately greets Biden as ‘my old friend’ – after Biden stated that he explicitly denied being ‘friends’ this summer. And Biden, with a toothy grin, reminding Xi that all countries, including China, “must abide by the same rules of the road,” Russel said.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, noted Xi’s use of the term despite the difficult state of relations.
“When we Chinese call someone an old friend, we mean we’ve known them for a long time. But an ‘old friend’ doesn’t necessarily mean they’re still a true friend,” Shi said.
Given the current diplomatic tensions, Biden may not want to be seen by US allies and his political opponents as a “friend”.
In June, a reporter asked Biden, 78, if he could call Xi – from “old friend to old friend” – asking for access to World Health Organization investigators looking for the origins of COVID-19.
“Let’s make one thing clear. We know each other well; we’re not old friends. It’s just pure business,” Biden said at the time.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked about this exchange.
“Well … I can confirm … he still doesn’t consider him an ‘old friend’, so he stays consistent,” he said.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe in Beijing and Trevor Hunnicutt and David Brunnstrom in Washington; editing by Michael Perry)