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Lush, private Northern California estate is site for Xi-Biden meeting

The leaders of the United States and China are meeting in a lush garden near San Francisco on Wednesday.
Lush, private Northern California estate is site for Xi-Biden meeting
Posted at 8:07 PM, Nov 14, 2023

U.S. President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping will meet at a historic country house and museum with lavish gardens for one-on-one talks aimed at improving relations between the two superpowers.

The two leaders will meet Wednesday at Filoli, a secluded estate along Northern California's coastal range. It was built in 1917 as a private residence and later became a National Trust for Historic Preservation site. The estate is about 25 miles south of San Francisco, where leaders are gathering for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' conference this week.

The location for the meeting was disclosed by three senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a matter with security implications.

Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund, said the location likely has met Xi's expectations for a private meeting with Biden away from the main summit venue.

"It appears to be a quiet, secluded estate, where Biden and Xi can have an intimate conversation in a relaxed environment," Glaser said. "Importantly, the venue is not connected to the APEC summit, so it provides the appearance that the two leaders are having a bilateral summit that is distinct from the multilateral APEC summit."

Observers of China's elite politics have said Xi wants to project himself to his domestic audience as equal with Biden and as commanding the respect of a U.S. president.

The estate has more than 650 acres, including a Georgian revival-style mansion and a formal, English Renaissance-style garden. The mansion and grounds are open daily, but the site is currently closed for three days for holiday decorating, its website says.

"A place like this allows them to get away, not just from the media, but from a lot of the other things that encourage conflict," said Jeremi Suri, a professor of public affairs and history at the University of Texas at Austin. "If they like each other, they are likely to start trusting each other and to communicate better."

Suri says this is what happened with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union before it was dissolved. The two met at a secluded chateau in Reykjavik in 1986, sat by a fireplace and walked outdoors wearing heavy coats, forging a relationship, Suri said.

"We need leaders who can break through the fear," he said.

San Francisco socialite William Bowers Bourn II named Filoli by taking the first two letters of key words of his personal credo, according to the estate's website: "Fight for a just cause. Love your Fellow Man. Live a Good Life."

The venue is available for private events, weddings and commercial filming and photography. The gardens feature in Jennifer Lopez's film "The Wedding Planner."

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