WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday night in a talk the White House says has not led to any breakthroughs in the US-China relationship, but has taken a step towards managing a relationship that is increasingly defined by hostility.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House said Biden expressed concern about Beijing’s crackdown on the Hong Kong democracy movement, China’s abuse of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang and human rights in general.
The two leaders also discussed Taiwan at length. The White House said Biden underlined America’s commitment to the “one China” policy, but was direct about its concern that Beijing’s moves toward self-governing democracy were increasingly at odds with the status quo.
Speaking to reporters, a senior government official described the meeting as “respectful,” “straightforward” and “open.”
“The meeting itself was actually about the two leaders discussing ways to responsibly manage competition between the United States and China and ways to put up barriers to that competition,” the official said. “That was a theme during the conversation.”
Biden had spoken with Xi twice by phone since taking office, but Monday marked the first time the two leaders met in a more formal setting. The White House had hoped to hold the meeting in person, but Xi has not left China since January 2020, when the coronavirus first began to spread.
“A virtual meeting is not quite the same as a face-to-face meeting, but it was certainly very different from just a phone call,” said the senior official of the Biden administration. “The two leaders really had a significant back and forth and an ability to get along.”
Relations between the US and China have become increasingly tense in recent years. The two countries started a trade war under the Trump administration, and Biden took a tough stance on China during his presidential campaign, calling Xi a “thug.” The Chinese leader has repeatedly celebrated what he believes to be America’s waning power, saying that “the East is rising and the West is declining”.
Speaking through interpreters Monday, Biden and Xi shared conciliatory words during their three-and-a-half-hour video conference.
“It seems to me that it is our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States to ensure that competition between our countries does not turn into conflict, intentional or unintentional,” Biden said in an opening remark, sitting at a table in the Roosevelt Room. .
Xi called Biden an “old friend” — the two leaders traveled together when they were both vice presidents of their respective nations — and said their countries needed to “improve communication and cooperation.”
“China and the United States should respect each other, coexist in peace and pursue a win-win cooperation,” Xi said.
Biden administration officials had downplayed expectations ahead of the meeting, telling reporters that the meeting was intended to open channels of communication between the two leaders rather than produce any results or specific results.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Monday that Biden felt he was entering the meeting from a “strong position” after his trip abroad last month to the Group of 20 summit in Rome and the UN climate conference in Scotland. – neither Xi was present in person. Psaki said the approval of the infrastructure bill, which Biden signed into law Monday afternoon, also strengthened the president’s position.
“This infrastructure law is essential and important for many reasons, but one of them is: for the first time in 20 years, we will invest more in infrastructure than we do in China,” said Psaki.
Speaking to reporters, the senior administration official said Biden was urging Xi to push through his “phase one” trade deal China had signed with the Trump administration. Biden also brought up the Covid pandemic and communicated the “important role transparency plays” in tackling global health, the official said.
Beijing-Washington relations got off to a shaky start under the Biden administration after top diplomats from the US and China detonated before reporters during a rally in Alaska in March. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Beijing for its rising authoritarianism, while the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi accused Washington of being hypocrites on human rights.
Blinken and Jiechi both attended Monday’s meeting. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, as well as National Security officials Kurt Campbell, Laura Rosenberger and Jon Czin also attended the meeting.
China is scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. There were rumors that Xi would use Monday’s meeting to invite Biden to attend the games, but a senior government official said the Olympics were not coming.