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US, China agree to work toward an expected Biden-Xi summit

WASHINGTON: The US and China have agreed to work together toward an expected summit between presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping next month, US officials said on Friday (Oct 27), following hours of meetings between Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and senior US diplomats in Washington.

In the first visit by a Chinese foreign minister to Washington since 2018, veteran diplomat Wang Yi also met Biden for an hour, talks that the White House described as a “good opportunity” in keeping lines of communication open between the two geopolitical rivals with deep policy differences.

Wang’s meetings with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US national security advisor Jake Sullivan spanning over two days totaled nine hours, US officials said, describing these interactions as “candid and in-depth”.

Biden’s top aides raised Washington’s key concerns: the need to restore military-to-military channels between the two countries, Beijing’s actions in the East and South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights, the flow of fentanyl precursors and the cases of Americans detained in China, US officials said.

There were also “frank exchanges” between Blinken and Wang over the erupting conflict in the Middle East.

The key area that appeared to show some positive momentum was toward an expected meeting between Biden and Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next month in San Francisco.

“We are making preparations for such a meeting,” said one of the senior administration officials briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.

“Obviously, Chinese leaders often confirm publicly much closer to a trip, so I will leave it to the Chinese side to figure out if and when they make that announcement,” the official said.

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Wang told Biden that the objective of his visit was to help “stem the decline” in US-China ties “with an eye on San Francisco”, without giving any details, according to a brief statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

The foreign ministry readouts for Wang’s meetings with Blinken and Sullivan said that “both sides agreed to work together to achieve a meeting between the two heads of state in San Francisco”.

“China attaches importance to the US side’s hopes of stabilising and improving US ties with China,” Wang was quoted as saying in his meeting with Biden.

The Biden administration has seen direct leader-level engagement with Xi as particularly important in managing tensions as it seeks to prevent relations from veering into conflict.

“A big part of a potential meeting would be the two leaders sitting down together and having those conversations on strategic intent,” the US official said.

On Thursday, Wang told Blinken that the two countries have disagreements and need “in-depth” and “comprehensive” dialogue to reduce misunderstandings and stabilise ties.

“Not only should we resume dialogue, the dialogue should be in-depth and comprehensive,” Wang said.

Wang’s three-day visit follows a flurry of bilateral diplomatic engagements in recent months, largely at US request, aimed at salvaging what were rapidly deteriorating ties early in the year following the US downing of an alleged Chinese spy balloon.

But some in Washington have questioned whether a slate of mostly unreciprocated US cabinet-level official visits to Beijing over the past six months, including by Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, played into Beijing’s hand.

The trips by Yellen and Raimondo led to new bilateral economic and commercial working groups, which critics worry will only pull US focus away from – and possibly delay – sanctions, export controls and broader measures intended to enhance US competition with China.

US officials have maintained that increased diplomacy does not mean a let up in policy.

CONCERN OVER MIDDLE EAST

The Israel-Hamas conflict has added a fresh dynamic to the testy relationship between the superpowers, and Washington is hoping Beijing can use its influence with Iran to prevent an escalation into a wider war in the Middle East.

US officials said the issue came up frequently during Wang’s meetings but it was unclear whether Washington was able to get Beijing on board to commit to using its influence to help contain the conflict.

“We expressed our deep concern with the situation and pressed China to take a more constructive approach, and that would include, of course, their engagements with the Iranians, to urge calm,” another of the senior administration officials said.

China has condemned violence and attacks on civilians in the conflict, and while Wang has declared Israel’s actions “beyond the scope of self-defence” he has not named Hamas in his comments.

The second official said Blinken raised US concerns about China’s recent actions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, including its “dangerous and unlawful obstruction” of the Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea and its unsafe intercept of a US aircraft. 

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