Biden, Xi to meet virtually by year-end amid tense relations

Oct 07 , 2021. 3 hours ago – 06:49 KYODO NEWS

Combined photo shows U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (L) and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi. (Kyodo)

WASHINGTON – The United States and China reached an agreement in principle for U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to hold a virtual meeting by the end of the year, a senior U.S. government official said Wednesday.

The announcement was made following talks between U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Switzerland, as Washington seeks to manage the growing rivalry and tension between the world’s two largest economies.

During their talks in Zurich, Sullivan raised “a number of areas” of U.S. concern such as Beijing’s human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in its far-western Xinjiang region, the crackdown on Hong Kong democracy, and the situations in the South China Sea and Taiwan, where China has been increasingly assertive, according to the White House.

But he also pointed out areas where the two countries have “an interest in working together to address vital transnational challenges, and ways to manage risks in our relationship,” it said.

“Sullivan made clear that while we will continue to invest in our own national strength and work closely with our allies and partners, we will also continue to engage with the PRC at a senior level to ensure responsible competition,” the White House said, referring to the acronym of the People’s Republic of China.

Yang, for his part, told Sullivan that confrontation would cause serious damage to both countries and to the world, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.

He also demanded that the United States not interfere in China’s “internal affairs,” referring to issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

The high-level meeting followed a phone conversation in early September between Biden and Xi, during which they discussed the need to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.

 Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) is escorted by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Aug. 18, 2011. (Kyodo)

For Sullivan, it was his first in-person meeting with Yang since March, when they met in Alaska with other top diplomats from the two countries and engaged in rare public sparring over their differing visions for the international order and their respective positions on human rights and democracy issues, among other topics.

Wednesday’s meeting, which lasted for six hours, had a “different tone than Anchorage” and the conversation was “candid” and “wide-ranging,” according to the senior Biden administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. national security advisor had suggested in June that Biden and Xi could meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit which is scheduled in Italy later in the month.

But with Xi having no plans to travel to Italy amid the coronavirus pandemic, the two countries have reached an agreement “in principle” to hold a virtual bilateral meeting between their leaders before the end of the year, the senior U.S. administration official said.

Details are yet to be decided, the official added.

The Zurich meeting took place as tensions are growing over China’s stepped-up military pressure on Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island Beijing considers a renegade province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

On Monday, 56 Chinese military planes entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, a one-day record since Taipei began disclosing such figures in September last year, leading the White House to express concerns over the provocative action.

China’s move may also have been a reaction to military exercises involving three U.S. and British aircraft carriers, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and other countries’ naval forces in waters southwest of Okinawa.

Sullivan also made clear during his talks with Yang that the United States will oppose any unilateral actions to change the status quo on Taiwan, the U.S. administration official said.

Taiwan and mainland China have been separately governed since they split as a result of a civil war in 1949.

The United States switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. But Washington maintains substantive though unofficial relations with Taiwan and supplies the island with arms and spare parts to maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities.