Biden and Xi to hold virtual meeting before year-end: US official

Top US official says ‘agreement in principle’ reached to hold virtual bilateral meeting between US, Chinese presidents.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden told reporters this week that he has spoken with Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan [File: Nicolas Asfouri and Nicholas Kamm/AFP]

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will hold a “virtual bilateral” meeting before the end of the year, a senior United States official has said, as the countries boost diplomacy amid several points of tension.

There is an “agreement in principle” for the “virtual bilateral”, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.

“The president said how nice it would be to see Xi, which he has not done for some years,” the official said. “We would expect them to have the ability to see one another, even if only virtually.”

The comments came a day after Biden told reporters that he had spoken to Xi about Taiwan, where authorities have raised concerns about recent Chinese military manoeuvres into the self-ruled island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).

“I’ve spoken with Xi about Taiwan,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. “We agree, we’ll abide by the Taiwan agreement, and we made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement.”

Taiwan said it tracked a record 56 Chinese aircraft in its ADIZ on Monday, the latest in a series of sorties that began on Friday, China’s National Day, and prompted the island to scramble fighter jets in response.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up cross-strait activities this year, with the number of recorded incidents on track to be double the level of 2020.

Washington condemned Beijing’s recent military actions in Taiwan’s air defence zone as “provocative” and destablising”, urging the Chinese authorities to stop “military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan”.

Taiwan was one of several points of discussion in a meeting on Wednesday between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, in Switzerland, the White House said in a statement.

Sullivan brought up “a number of areas” where the US has concerns about China’s behaviour, the statement said, including Taiwan, the South China Sea, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and human rights.

“Mr. Sullivan also raised areas where the United States and the PRC (China) have an interest in working together to address vital transnational challenges, and ways to manage risks in our relationship,” it said.

Tensions are rising between the two nations over China’s aggressive posture towards Taiwan, the US decision to sell nuclear submarines to Australia and trade disputes, among other issues.

On Monday, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said she would soon be talking to her Chinese counterpart, as a massive trade dispute rumbles on with no end in sight.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that “an agreement to continue dialogue at a very high level” had been reached.

“So what we’ve said and we continue to believe is that leader-level engagement is an important part of our effort to responsibly manage the competition with China, especially given the coalescing of power in Chinese leadership,” she said.

“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.”

Xi and Biden spoke by phone on September 9 in what the White House said was part of an “ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition” between the countries.

That call ended a nearly seven-month gap in direct communication between the leaders.

“President Biden underscored the United States’ enduring interest in peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world and the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict,” the White House said at that time.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies