Saturday, October 23, 2021

Biden, Xi speak by phone for first time since February

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been at their lowest point in decades and it was only the second call between the leaders since Biden took office in January.

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US President Joe Biden spoke by phone with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for about 90 minutes on Thursday, a senior US official said, with both leaders discussing the need to avoid letting competition between the world’s two largest economies veer into conflict.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been at their lowest point in decades and it was only the second call between the leaders since Biden took office in January.

A White House statement said the two leaders had “a broad, strategic discussion,” including “areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge.”

The conversation focused on economic issues, climate change and Covid-19, the senior US official said.

Chinese state media said the conversation was “candid” and “in-depth”, adding that President Xi said US policy on China imposes great difficulties on relations between the two.

The Chinese report added that both sides agreed to maintain frequent contact and to ask working-level teams to increase communications.

Occasional high-level meetings since Xi and Biden’s first call in February have yielded scant progress on a slew of issues, from climate change, to human rights, and transparency over the origins of Covid-19.

During the ensuing months, the two sides have lashed out at each other on an almost constantly, often resorting to vitriolic public attacks, slapping sanctions on each other’s officials and criticizing the other for not upholding their international obligations.

“President Biden underscored the US enduring interest in peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world and the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict,” the statement said. The Biden administration, preoccupied by a chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, has signaled that ending America’s longest war will give US political and military leaders the space to focus on more pressing threats stemming from China’s rapid rise.

But Beijing has been quick to seize on the US failure in Afghanistan to try to portray the US as a fickle partner and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last month that Washington should not expect China’s cooperation on that or other issues if it was also trying to “contain and suppress” China.

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