US-China talks: Biden seeks to prevent conflicts; Xi says both sides should strengthen communication

US President Joe Biden meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping virtually from the White House on Nov 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Joe Biden discussed on how to manage their countries' growing competition to avoid a conflict, saying it is their responsibility as the world's two major powers to come to the table.

The two men, who have known each other for years, greeted each other with a wave as their virtual meeting began at 8.45am on Tuesday (Nov 16) Beijing time.

The meeting ended less at 12.24pm, according to Chinese state media.

Accompanying them were senior officials from both administrations, including top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi; foreign minister Wang Yi; vice-premier Liu He; Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen; and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Mr Biden started first by saying it was the responsibility of both sides to ensure that the competition between the two countries "does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended", according to a readout provided by the White House.

"Just simple, straightforward competition," he said.

He called for some "commonsense guardrails", and for the two countries to be "clear and honest where we disagree, and work together where our interests intersect", citing issues like climate change.

The two countries issued a joint declaration at the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, pledging to step up cooperation in cutting emissions.

Bilateral relations have been in the doldrums as the two giants cross swords over trade, technology, the Covid-19 outbreak, human rights issues, the South China Sea and Taiwan.

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In his opening remarks, Mr Xi described the two countries as being "at critical stages of development" and need to increase communication and cooperation as the world's two largest economies and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Saying he was happy to see "an old friend", Mr Xi called for mutual respect and said he welcomed working with Mr Biden.

"We should each run our domestic affairs well and, at the same time, shoulder our share of international responsibilities and work together to advance the noble cause of world peace and development," he said, based on a readout issued by the Chinese foreign ministry.

A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden at a restaurant in Beijing on Nov 16, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Antony Blinken listens as Mr Joe Biden and Mr Xi Jinping participate in a virtual summit in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Nov 15, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The two leaders are expected to raise key concerns. For the US, Mr Biden will want to discuss China's trade practices which he considers unfair, human rights issues and China's growing military pressure in the Taiwan Strait. He could also bring up concerns over cybersecurity and China's build-up of nuclear weapons.

Mr Xi is also likely to prioritise Taiwan in the discussion and will want to seek an assurance from Mr Biden that he will abide by the US' longstanding one-China policy, say analysts.

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The Chinese could also push for more regular dialogue at the working level, said Associate Professor Hoo Tiang Boon of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"The Americans have highlighted that they don't like unproductive talks or talks which are grand on pomp and ceremony about achieve very little," said Prof Hoo, who studies US-China relations.

"But I think at the working level, they appreciate that some form of engagement is definitely necessary. And that form of engagement should be away from media attention but actually could yield more substantive outcomes."

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