Biden, Xi to hold virtual meet this year

The decision came out of a meeting between U.S. NSA Jake Sullivan and Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi

October 07, 2021 02:33 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 07:27 pm IST - Washington

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 4, 2013.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 4, 2013.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed “in principle” to have a virtual meeting before the end of the year, according to senior U.S. administration officials. The decision came out of a six-hour meeting in Zurich late on Wednesday between U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese Politburo member and top diplomat Yang Jiechi.

The meeting had “a different tone from Anchorage”, reports quoted the officials as saying, referring to a stormy March meeting between Mr. Sullivan and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and their Chinese counterparts, Mr. Yang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, which was marked by public rancour.

“Today really involved a genuine back and forth, which was quite welcome — a different tone than Anchorage, a different kind of feel in the ability to go back and forth than in Anchorage,” an official said, according to the Financial Times , which reported on the possibility of a Biden-Xi meeting.

A virtual meeting means Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi will not meet in person at the G20 summit in Rome to be held at the end of this month. Mr. Xi is unlikely to travel to Rome, and the Chinese leader has not left China for more than 600 days, since the pandemic began. His last overseas visit was to Myanmar in mid-January 2020. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be travelling to Rome for the summit.

Asked to confirm if Mr. Biden would be meeting Mr. Xi virtually, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there was agreement to continue the dialogue at a “very high level” and the details of what that meant were still being worked out. “We’re still working through what that would look like, when, and, of course, the final details. So we don’t quite have them yet,” she said.

A White House readout of the meeting did not announce the virtual meet. Instead, it spoke of the importance of managing the competition between the two countries responsibly and of maintaining open lines of communication, following the September 9 call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s readout also did not mention a leaders’ meeting, but offered a more positive take on the state of relations in comparison to the March meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. It said both sides “agreed to maintain regular dialogue and communication on important issues”. Beijing said the meeting was “constructive, and conducive to enhancing mutual understanding” and both sides agreed “to strengthen strategic communication, properly manage differences, avoid conflict and confrontation, seek mutual benefits and win-win results, and work together to bring China-U.S. relations back on the right track of sound and steady development.”

Many differences

Despite both readouts emphasising cooperation, it remains to be seen where the two sides will be able to bridge differences, on issues ranging from trade and technology to Taiwan.

The two sides appeared to merely reaffirm their positions on those thorny issues. The White House said Mr. Sullivan “raised a number of areas where we have concern with the PRC’s actions, including actions related to human rights, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and Taiwan”. Just days ago, the U.S. criticised China for flying a record number of aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone and said America’s commitment to Taiwan was “rock solid”. Beijing hit out at the U.S. statement on Taiwan, calling it “irresponsible”.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Mr. Yang “expounded China’s solemn position on issues related to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Xizang [Tibet] and human rights as well as maritime issues, urging the U.S. side to truly respect China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, and stop using the above issues to interfere in China's internal affairs”.

Both sides offered differing views on the relationship. While Mr. Sullivan said the U.S. would work closely with its allies and partners and engage with China at a senior level to “ensure responsible competition”, Mr. Yang told him China “opposes defining China-U.S. relations as ‘competitive’”.

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