By AAMER MADHANI and COLLEEN LONG
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China’s XI Jinping on Monday by saying their goal is to ensure competition “doesn’t conflict.”
The two leaders meet via video amid mounting tensions in the US-China relationship. Biden has criticized Beijing for human rights violations against Uyghurs in northwestern China, suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong, military aggression against the self-ruled island of Taiwan and more. Xi’s deputies, meanwhile, have lashed out at Biden’s White House for meddling in what it sees as internal Chinese affairs.
“It seems 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, rather than simple, direct competition,” Biden said at the start of the meeting. . meeting.
Biden would have preferred to meet Xi in person, but the Chinese leader has not left his country since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House put forward the idea of a virtual meeting as the best option to allow the two leaders to have a frank conversation about a wide range of tensions in the relationship.
Xi told Biden that the two sides need to improve communication. The two leaders traveled together when both were vice presidents and knew each other well.
“I stand ready to work with you, Mr. President, to build consensus, take active steps and move China-US relations in a positive direction,” said Xi, who is Biden’s “longtime friend.” called.
Chinese officials said Taiwan would be the main topic of the talks. Tensions have mounted as the Chinese military has sent an increasing number of fighter jets near the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
“The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as China’s core interest,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday. “It is the most important and sensitive issue in China-US relations.”
The White House said Biden will adhere to the long-standing US “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. Chinese forces held exercises near Taiwan last week in response to a visit by a US congressional delegation to the island.
With Beijing set to host the Winter Olympics in February and Xi expected to be approved by Communist Party leaders to serve a third five-year term as president next year — unprecedented in recent Chinese history — the Chinese leader wants to maybe stabilize the relationship in China. the short term. White House press secretary Jen Psaki added that the “densification of power” in China made leader-to-leader talks essential.
Slowing economic growth and a looming housing crisis also threaten Beijing.
At the same time, Biden, who has seen his polls dwindle at home amid concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, inflation and supply chain problems, is seeking some measure of balance in the most sweeping foreign policy issue he faces.
Despite his domestic troubles, White House officials claimed Biden came to his meeting with Xi from a strong position.
Earlier Monday, Biden signed into law a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, legislation to upgrade the country’s crumbling infrastructure, which the Democrat claimed is crucial for the US as it seeks to maintain a competitive advantage over China.
“Because of this law, next year will be the first year in 20 years that US infrastructure investment grows faster than China’s,” Biden said. “We will have the best roads, bridges, ports and airports again in the next decade.”
The White House had low expectations for the meeting with Xi: no major announcements or even a joint statement were expected.