WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Joe Biden plans to meet virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the end of the year, a senior US official said, with tensions escalating between the world's two largest economies.
Plans for the meeting were announced in a conference call with reporters following about six hours of meetings on Wednesday (Oct 6) between White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and a senior Chinese foreign policy adviser, Yang Jiechi, in Zurich.
The official called the Zurich discussions more meaningful and substantive than previous meetings between Biden administration officials and their Chinese counterparts.
When Sullivan and other US officials sat down with Yang in Anchorage, Alaska, earlier this year the two sides publicly traded barbs over human rights issues.
The details for the meeting between Biden and Xi, including the date, still need to be worked out.
The two men last spoke on Sept 9 and discussed what the White House described as guardrails to ensure that competition between the two countries does not veer into conflict.
"We continue to believe 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," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday.
"We're still working through what that would look like when, and of course the final details so we don't quite have them."
In the last month, China has ratcheted up tension around Taiwan, sending scores of warplanes into the island's air-defence-identification zone.
At the same time, the US and several allies, including Japan and Britain, have conducted naval drills in nearby waters.
The Biden administration this week also pledged to hold Beijing accountable on commitments made in the phase-one trade agreement negotiated by former president Donald Trump and vowed to defend American interests.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai is set to meet with her counterpart, Vice-Premier Liu He, as soon as this week to discuss what the US regards as China's shortfalls in the agreement and Beijing's harmful industrial policies.
According to a Chinese government statement about the Sullivan-Yang meeting published by Xinhua, Yang said that China attaches importance to Biden's positive remarks recently and noted that the US said it does not intend to contain China or engage in a new cold war.
The statement called the conversations with Sullivan comprehensive, candid and in-depth exchanges on the two countries' relations as well as international and regional issues of shared interest.
Biden officials had been frustrated with the lack of seriousness shown by Beijing to engage on matters of mutual interest. Lower-level meetings and talks had not yielded progress, leading to the Sept 9 call between the presidents that was intended to help set the terms of the relationship.
The US official said Sullivan and Yang discussed areas of mutual agreement such as climate change, but that Sullivan also raised areas of friction, such as human rights issues including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Sullivan also made clear the US does not accept linking progress on climate change to concessions on any other bilateral issue. He also was frank about US concerns over China's actions around Taiwan. The US official declined to characterise Yang's response.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has criticised China's recent military maneuvers, urging leaders in Beijing to cease the provocations.
"The actions we've seen by China are provocative and potentially destabilising," Blinken said on Wednesday in an interview in Paris with Bloomberg Television.
"What I hope is that these actions will cease because there's always the possibility of miscalculation, of miscommunication, and that's dangerous."