Xi, Biden wrap up ‘virtual’ meeting amid rising tension

Nov 16, 2021: US President Joe Biden, during a virtual call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, called for better and more “honest” communication between China and the United States, where the two leaders played up ties.

The two leaders were speaking via video conference at a time when relations between the two countries are deteriorating, including over the treatment of Muslim-majority Uighurs in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing’s western region of Xinjiang.

In his opening remarks before Monday night’s call, Biden acknowledged that competition was expected between the United States and China, but said it was his and Xi Jinping’s personal responsibility to be leaders. And to make sure the enmity does not escalate into a confrontation, as per a copy of the White House transcript.

“It seems to me we need to establish some common sense guardrails, to be clear and honest where we disagree, and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change,” Biden said.

“And I think it’s very important, as I’ve told other world leaders when they ask about our relationship, is that we have always communicated with one another — with one another very honestly and candidly,” he also said. “We never walk away wondering what the other man is thinking.”

Biden’s comments contradict his administration’s early days, when a meeting between top US and Chinese officials in March turned into a heated confrontation as top Chinese diplomat and Politburo member Yang Jiechi met with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and were told not to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

Since then, the Biden administration and Beijing have traded barbs on sensitive issues, including the recent Chinese incursion into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. China claims the island, an independent democracy of more than 23 million people, while the United States sees it as a key ally in its Indo-Pacific defense strategy.

Biden has also commented that competition with China is a conflict between democracy and dictatorship, while personally comparing China’s treatment of Uighurs to that of the Holocaust. Speaking from Beijing, Xi said the two countries face a number of challenges.

He called Biden “my old friend” and said rivals should work together. He said that China and the United States need to increase contacts and cooperation.

The two leaders have spoken twice on the phone since Biden’s inauguration in January, but Xi has not traveled abroad since the onset of the corona virus pandemic, ruling out the possibility of a face-to-face summit. According to Chinese state media, the talks lasted about four hours, ending shortly before 12.30 pm (04:30 GMT) Beijing time. The two first met in person, with each serving as vice president under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, respectively.

In a call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken before the talks, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi highlighted Taiwan as a key point of contention between the two countries.

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