President Biden spoke with China's Xi Jinping on Thursday amid growing frustration on the American side that high-level engagement between the two leaders' top advisers has been largely unfruitful in the early going of the Biden presidency. Biden initiated the call with Xi, the second between the two leaders since Biden took office. It comes at a moment when there is no shortage of thorny issues between the two nations, including cybersecurity breaches originating from China, Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and what the White House has labeled as "coercive and unfair” trade practices by the Chinese, the AP reports.
But Biden's aim with the 90-minute call was less focused on any of those hot-button issues and instead centered on discussing the way ahead for the US-China relationship after it got off to a decidedly rocky start in his tenure. The White House said in a statement the “two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge." It said the leaders "discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict." Their last phone call was in February, weeks after Biden took office.
Xi in the call appeared to echo some of the complaints, telling Biden that US government policy toward China caused "serious difficulties" in relations, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. "This is not in the basic interests of the two peoples,” the Chinese leader said, according to Xinhua. "Chinese-US confrontation will bring disaster to both countries and the world."
Ahead of the call, a senior administration official told the AP the White House has been unsatisfied with early engagements with the Chinese. The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said White House officials were hopeful that Xi hearing directly from Biden could prove beneficial. The White House official said Biden made clear to Xi that he had no intention of moving away from his administration’s policy of pressing China on human rights, trade, and other areas where it believes China is acting outside international norms.
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