US President JoeBiden and Chinese Xi Jinping on Monday opened a virtual summit with a call for better communication between the superpowers and what Biden called “safeguards” to avoid conflict.
Speaking from the White House to Xi on a TV screen, Biden stressed the need to resolve a relationship rocked by high-stakes disputes, especially over trade and Taiwan.
“It seems to me that our responsibility as the leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not escalate into conflict, whether it is intentional or not. Just simple and straightforward competition. “Bidens said.
He said they would have a “frank” discussion.
Xi, speaking from Beijing, called Biden “my old friend,” but said rivals needed to work more closely.
“We face multiple challenges together. As the world’s two largest economies and permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and the United States must increase communication and cooperation,” he said. he declared, speaking through an interpreter during brief public remarks, before their departure. behind closed doors.
The two leaders have spoken by phone twice since Biden’s inauguration in January, but with Xi refusing to travel overseas due to the pandemic, an online video meeting was the only option before an in-person summit .
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden was preparing for the hour-long summit, “from a position of strength,” after months of rebuilding alliances with other democracies to contain the China.
The meeting is “an opportunity to fix the terms of competition with China” and to insist that the leaders in Beijing “play by the rules of the road,” Psaki said.
Most of the attention in the preparation for the meeting focused on sparring on Taiwan, an autonomous democracy claimed by China. Biden’s aides presented the summit as an opportunity to help prevent tensions from escalating.
Both Biden and Xi stressed the need for their countries to work together on major global issues, especially Covid-19 and climate change.
“A strong and stable Sino-US relationship” is necessary “to safeguard a peaceful and stable international environment,” Xi said.
However, the White House has sought to temper expectations, with the official saying the summit “is not a meeting where we expect deliverables to be released.”
Domestic help from the Bidengets
Relations between the superpowers collapsed under President Donald Trump, who launched a trade war with China while attacking Beijing’s response to an international investigation into the origins of the Covid pandemic in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Biden redefined confrontation more broadly as a struggle between democracy and autocracy.
It received a boost on Monday when it enacted a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure package, the largest of its kind in more than half a century. Bidden describes the initiative as an important step to catch up with years of intensive investment by the Chinese government, proving that democracies can compete.
“The world is changing,” he said in a speech at the White House. “We have to be ready.”
While the daily tone is more measured than in Trump’s day, the tension over Taiwan threatens to escalate into dangerous new territory.
China has stepped up military activities near Taiwan in recent years, with a record number of warplanes entering the island’s air defense zone in October.
The United States says it supports Taiwan’s self-defense but is ambiguous as to whether it would step in to help directly.
In the brief comments to reporters, Xi referred to each country that has to “manage our internal affairs,” but did not mention the US criticism of Beijing’s saber strikes around Taiwan, the massive violations. human rights or other sensitive points.
Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi did not hesitate, telling US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call that “all connivance and support for ‘Taiwan independence’ forces undermines peace across the Taiwan Strait and would only boomerang into ending it. “
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday entrusted Bident with the responsibility of improving relations.
“We hope that the United States will work in the same direction as China to come to an agreement,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
A senior US administration official, who asked not to be identified, signaled that Biden would be “very blunt” about what he called “China’s coercive and provocative behavior towards Taiwan” .
Biden, a veteran of foreign policy issues during his decades in politics, has often said that telephone conversations are no substitute for face-to-face meetings.
Xi has not left China for nearly two years, and Bidens has sharply criticized his absence from the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow and the G20 summit in Rome.