The Filoli Estate, Host to Biden and Xi, Has Hollywood History

In 2017, Mr. Xi visited President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., where they discussed airstrikes in Syria over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake,” according to Mr. Trump. He also directed his granddaughter to sing a song in Mandarin for the Chinese leader. But that warm welcome did little to quell later disputes over the coronavirus pandemic or a trade war.

In 2013, President Barack Obama welcomed Mr. Xi to Sunnylands, the lavish estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., that Leonore Annenberg and her billionaire husband, Walter H. Annenberg, had built in the Southern California desert to offer presidents a “Camp David West.” It was a favorite of Republican presidents, including George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi spent eight hours together there, smiling broadly.

And 30 years ago, another Chinese leader visited another APEC summit, held that year in Seattle. President Jiang Zemin visited the home of a family in a blue-collar suburb of that city, discussing mortgage payments and admiring the three cars in the driveway. He came bearing a large stuffed panda.

Relations are different today.

“I think this is the type of summit you have after you’ve had a spy balloon go overhead, after you’ve had a trade war, after you’ve had a lot of close calls in the China Sea,” Thomas Schwartz, a professor of history at Vanderbilt University, said. “You can’t do the sort of panda summits and the rest of that.”

But the talk wasn’t limited to world conflict and nukes. At one point during their four-hour meeting, Biden wished Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, a happy birthday — she shares the same birthday as the president, who turns 81 next week. Xi replied that he was embarrassed, he has been working so much that he’d forgotten that his wife’s birthday was coming up.

After their meeting, Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi took a walk among the pomegranate trees and heather under gray California clouds. Then Mr. Xi departed for San Francisco, where he was scheduled to meet with American business leaders at a $2,000-a-plate dinner. Mr. Biden stayed behind to deliver a news conference, where he said he still viewed his guest of honor as a dictator, a comment that his aides tried to walk back the last time he said it.