Biden denies China’s Xi turned down meeting offer

Sept 15, 2021:  US President Joe Biden on Tuesday denied a media report that his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping turned down an offer of a face-to-face meeting with Biden last week.

The Financial Times briefed several people last week on a 90-minute call between the two leaders, saying Xi did not accept Biden’s offer and instead urged Washington to adopt a less aggressive stance. “That’s not true,” Biden told reporters. Biden’s national security adviser, Jack Sullivan, said in a statement early Tuesday that the report was “not an accurate picture of the call.”

On the other hand, a source briefed on the call confirmed that the report was accurate. Sources told Reuters that “Xi apparently made it clear that the tone and atmosphere of the relationship needed to be improved first.”

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Financial Times quoted a source as saying that Biden had presented the summit as one of several possibilities for follow-on engagement with Xi, and did not expect an immediate response. He quoted a US official as saying that although Xi had not linked the idea to a summit, the White House believed it was partly due to concerns about COVID-19.

A possible face-to-face meeting at the G20 summit in Italy in October has been discussed, but Xi has not left China since the pandemic broke out early last year. In his statement, Sullivan added: “As we have said, the presidents discussed the importance of being able to have private talks between the two leaders, and we will respect that.”

The call between Biden and XI was their first in seven months and they discussed the need to ensure that competition between the world’s two largest economies does not escalate.

Ahead of the talks, a US official called the briefing a test of whether direct high-level engagements could end the strained relations, the strain the worst in decades.

The White House later said it intended to keep communications channels open, but did not announce any plans for follow-on engagements. Chinese state media said Xi had told Biden that US policy on China had caused “serious difficulties” in relations, but added that the two sides agreed to maintain regular contact and increase communication with working-level teams.

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