Biden-Xi virtual summit is now planned for next week: Sources

The virtual summit would follow two phone calls between Biden (left) and Xi. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are scheduled to hold a virtual summit next week, though no specific date has been set, according to people familiar with the matter.

The long-distance summit comes as ties between the world's two largest economies have quietly improved in recent months, even as the nations spar over Taiwan and alarm grows in Washington over Beijing's expanding nuclear arsenal.

The exact date of the summit is still being negotiated, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified.

The session won't address the issue of whether the US consulate in Chengdu and the Chinese consulate in Houston will reopen, one of the people added.

Both buildings were shuttered in July last year amid tit-for-tat feuding between Washington and Beijing.

White House and State Department spokesmen didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated Monday that there's "an agreement in principle" for a virtual meeting "before the end of the year."

"This is part of our ongoing efforts to responsibly manage the competition between our countries," she told reporters, and is "not about seeking specific deliverables."

The White House has previously said it wants to elevate talks to the leader level, in hopes that the two presidents can agree on guardrails for the relationship to ensure competition doesn't veer into conflict.

The virtual summit would follow two phone calls between Biden and Xi and various lower-level engagements that the US said were disappointing and lacked serious engagement from Chinese officials.

It comes almost six months after Biden held an in-person summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

The meeting would also follow the sixth plenum - a key meeting of Communist Party officials taking place in Beijing this week. That gathering is expected to help smooth the way for Xi to win a third term as party leader next year.

Biden met Xi repeatedly over the years, including as vice-president, and used to tout what he said was his friendship with the Chinese leader.

He gave a harsher assessment on the campaign trail last year, calling Xi a "thug" who "doesn't have a democratic - with-a-small-'d' - bone in his body."

Xi hasn't left China in 21 months, as China continues to push ahead with a Covid-19 zero-tolerance policy and as Xi prepares for an important Communist Party meeting scheduled for next year.

Xi didn't attend the recent meeting of Group of 20 leaders in Rome or climate talks in Glasgow.

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