Top US and Chinese officials are set to meet this week in Switzerland, which will include negotiations on a possible virtual summit between President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, will meet on Wednesday with Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, according to three people familiar with the situation. One person said the two sides were getting closer to arranging a virtual summit between the two leaders.
Biden spoke with Xi on the phone last month, in their second conversation since he took office. He suggested they hold a personal summit, but Xi did not respond, urging the US to tone down its anti-Chinese rhetoric.
Beijing has been playing hard to get in recent months. A planned visit to China by Deputy Foreign Minister Wendy Sherman almost fell through after Beijing initially refused to give her a meeting with Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister.
People familiar with the Biden-Xi call had said a virtual summit could be a potential compromise, especially since Xi has not left China since the start of the pandemic. The Sullivan-Yang meeting was first reported by the South China Morning Post.
The White House later said Sullivan would meet Yang in Zurich. “They will follow up on President Biden’s. . . call President Xi as we continue to pursue responsible management of competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” it said.
The meeting will be the highest face-to-face meeting since Sullivan and Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, met Yang and Wang in Alaska in March.
That meeting resulted in an extraordinary public spat, as Yang launched an anti-US tirade after Blinken publicly said he would express his concerns about Taiwan, the persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.
Blinken is not expected to participate in the meeting in Switzerland.
“We have entered a curious period in US-China ties. It’s a cyclical reduction in the risk of bilateral relations amid a long-term structural deterioration,” said Evan Medeiros, a China expert at Georgetown University who served as President Barack Obama’s top Asia adviser.
The discussions come as tensions between the US and China remain high over a range of issues, including the Chinese military’s increasingly assertive activity near Taiwan. In recent days, China has flown a record number of warplanes into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (Adiz) as part of a campaign to intimidate the country, which Beijing claims as its own sovereign territory.
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The Biden administration is also preparing to enter into trade talks with China for the first time. Katherine Tai, the US trade representative, said on Monday that she will soon hold direct talks with her Chinese counterpart Liu He.
But the US has indicated that it will not try to strike another deal to address thorny structural problems, but will instead focus on convincing China to honor the purchase commitments it made in the “stage 1” trade deal it signed with Donald Trump in 2020.