U.S. officials are working to arrange a possible call this summer between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to two people in Washington familiar with the plans, with tensions high between the world’s two biggest economies.
The people didn’t have more details on what the U.S. would want to be the focus of the call, but top Biden administration officials have emphasized the importance of putting “guard rails” on the relationship with Beijing to prevent disagreements from escalating into crisis.
Ukraine, Taiwan and human rights are among the many sore points in U.S.-China relations, and the two nations have been jockeying for greater influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We want stability in the relationship — that takes connecting,” U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said Thursday at an event hosted by the Brookings Institution when asked about the state of play between the countries. “Of course, our ultimate channel is the channel between our two presidents. So we’re conducting intensive diplomacy.”
One person familiar with planning said a potential summer call could come as soon as July but any in-person meeting of the two leaders would wait until after China’s Communist Party congress late in the year. Xi — who is seeking to secure a third term as China’s leader — has also halted international travel since COVID-19 emerged more than two years ago.
Asked about a potential meeting, Liu Pengyu, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said in an email only that China and the U.S. “have smooth communications channels.”
A spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said Thursday that the Biden administration continues to maintain open lines of communication to manage competition with China but had no future calls or meetings to announce at this time.
A call would follow a lengthy meeting between U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Luxembourg this week. The U.S. said that meeting “included candid, substantive, and productive discussion of a number of regional and global security issues, as well as key issues in U.S.-China relations.”
Speaking at an event in Washington on Thursday, Sullivan laid out what U.S. officials see as the cost of China coming “to dominate the world.”
“When you play out that world, it is a world that is darker and harsher for American families, and it’s one we need to stand against and in favor of a vision for the world that actually delivers a better life for people and that’s the core of what we’re trying to do every day through a turbulent and crisis-laden international landscape,” Sullivan said.
China, meanwhile, has accused Washington of seeking to encircle it with a NATO-like system of alliances and of trying to recreate a Cold War version of the world. Beijing recently pressed Pacific Island nations to sign security and economic deals that surprised officials in Australia and the U.S. Beijing has also alarmed American officials repeatedly in recent months by asserting that the Taiwan Strait isn’t international waters.
Yet with China focused on stamping out flare-ups of COVID-19 that have prompted sporadic lock-downs crimping economic growth, American officials increasingly see China losing diplomatic ground in Asia. Recent weeks have seen a flurry of U.S. outreach to Asia, including by Biden, who traveled to South Korea and Japan last month, as well as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and top State Department officials.
Biden and Xi last spoke in a nearly two-hour-long video call on March 18, their first following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. president warned his counterpart at the time of “consequences” should Beijing provide support for President Vladimir Putin’s war, according to the White House readout of the chat.
The longer summaries of the March call released by the China side portrayed a more wide-ranging discussion, including “the situation in Ukraine.” Xi told Biden that the invasion “is not something we want to see,” according to the Chinese summaries, and that “the events again show that countries should not come to the point of meeting on the battlefield.”
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