US-China talks: Biden seeks to prevent conflicts; Xi says both sides should strengthen communication

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) – United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off a high stakes virtual summit aimed at calming tensions over Taiwan and other flashpoints, with the US leader saying the rivals should seek to avoid “conflict.”

Opening the meeting from the White House which began shortly after 7.45pm Eastern time on Monday (8.45am Singapore time on Tuesday), Mr Biden told Mr Xi they need “guardrails” to prevent any US-China “conflict”, and added that he hoped the leaders of the two largest economies would have a “candid and forthright discussion.”

Mr Biden promised to address areas of concern for Washington, including human rights and other issues in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Mr Xi told Mr Biden that the two nations must improve “communication” and face challenges “together”, amid heightened tensions over Taiwan and other flashpoint issues.  

“China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation,” Mr Xi said, adding that he was happy to “see my old friend” Mr Biden and that he was ready to work with the US leader. 

“Humanity lives in a global village,” and nations must “face challenges together”, Mr Xi added.

According to a readout from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Mr Xi stressed that a sound and steady China-US relationship is required to safeguard an international environment in order to find effective responses to global challenges.  

The Chinese leader also expressed his readiness to work with Mr Biden to move relations between the two countries to a “positive direction”.

The early moments of the two leaders’ video dialogue was observed by a small group of reporters who joined Mr Biden in a West Wing conference room before the heads of state spoke privately in a meeting US officials expected to stretch several hours.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Mr Biden’s Asia policy czar Kurt Campbell were among US officials at the call.

Mr Joe Biden (centre), Mr Jake Sullivan (left), Mr Antony Blinken (right) and Dr Janet Yellen (right) speak virtually with Mr Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington on Nov 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

From the Chinese side, Vice-Premier Liu He, top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi  were among the officials in attendance.

Both sides hope the talks will make the relationship less acrimonious. 

The US and China, the world’s biggest economies, disagree on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, trade and competition rules, Beijing’s expanding nuclear arsenal and its stepped-up pressure on Taiwan, among other issues.

The two leaders have spoken by phone twice since Mr Biden’s inauguration in January but with Mr Xi refusing to travel abroad because of the pandemic, an online video meeting was the only option short of an in-person summit.

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