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Biden, Xi Jinping speak out for first time in months amid unraveling US-China ties

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Updated September 10, 2021 at 4:19 am ET

President Biden had a telephone interview with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday, only their second since Biden took office, as part of a US-initiated attempt to stabilize bilateral ties and bring Beijing to a more substantial commitment in a context of increasing competition.

The world’s two largest economies are stuck in a stalemate fueled by latent disagreements on issues such as trade, technology and human rights. That and a global coronavirus pandemic blocking most international travel left communication and cooperation between Washington and Beijing diminished.

The White House said in a statement that Biden and Xi “had a broad strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge and areas where our interests, values ​​and perspectives diverge.”

“They have agreed to engage on both sets of issues openly and directly,” the White House said.

from China reading out loud largely mirrored that of the United States, adopting a more conciliatory and hopeful tone than previous state rhetoric did over the past year and ended with the pledge to maintain “a in-depth communication between Chinese and American leaders ”.

“The fate of the world depends on the ability of China and the United States to manage their relations well,” he said. “Bilateral cooperation would benefit the world; the confrontation would lead to catastrophes. The US-China relationship is not a multiple answer question of whether we should have a good relationship, but a mandatory question of how.

The Biden administration said the United States welcomes competition with China, but is willing to cooperate in areas of common interest, such as climate change. Chinese officials say it is unrealistic for the United States to expect cooperation while taking actions that Beijing sees as harming China’s interests.

The White House statement said the two leaders “discussed the responsibility of the two nations to ensure that competition does not escalate into conflict.”

The call comes like Biden’s home approval ratings are sagging, in part because of the way he handled the US exit from Afghanistan. But with the pullout now complete, the president is shifting his attention back to the US relationship with China, which he has called his top foreign policy priority.

In late August, Biden outlined his priorities in a speech about the US leaving Afghanistan.

“We are engaged in serious competition with China. We are facing challenges on several fronts with Russia. We are facing cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation,” he said.

“And there is nothing that China or Russia would prefer, not want in this competition any longer that the United States was bogged down for another decade in Afghanistan.”

Biden and Xi are both expected to attend the G-20 meeting in Rome next month, though there has been speculation that Xi might not attend in person. Chinese and US leaders have traditionally held a bilateral summit on the sidelines of the meeting, but it is not known if that will happen this year.

A senior Biden administration official said the idea for Thursday’s appeal arose out of frustration over a perceived reluctance on lower-level Chinese officials to “engage in serious conversations or substantial “.

The official said Biden made the appeal with Xi “to really have a broad and strategic discussion on how to handle competition between the United States and China.”

“It is very likely that the commitment at the leader’s level is really what is needed to move the ball forward,” said the official.

Earlier this year, in March, when senior officials from the United States and China met halfway in Alaska, the discussion quickly turned become hostile. Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, delivered a spiteful speech criticizing the United States for abusing “so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade and incite some countries to attack China” and accused states -United to “massacre” black Americans.

It was not clear on this week’s call how receptive Xi would be. In an official statement following Friday’s appeal, Beijing said Xi called for “political courage to put Sino-US relations back on track for stable development as soon as possible.”

Xi has accumulated more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and is set for a rare third term as Communist Party boss next year and president in 2023.

Because Xi wields so much power and doesn’t have to “play for someone above him,” the senior administration official said, the appeal would be a test of the proposition he might have. more leeway.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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