WASHINGTON: The US and China have agreed in principle that President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will hold a virtual summit before the end of the year, a senior White House official said, amid high tension in bilateral relationship over Beijing's actions on issues like trade, human rights, the South China Sea and Taiwan.
The announcement by the White House followed a nearly six-hour meeting in Zurich between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi on Wednesday.
The move comes as tension between the countries spiked over Biden administration demands that Beijing cease military pressure against Taiwan and live up to its trade commitments.
In the past several days, China has sent about 150 warplanes into Taiwan''s air defence zone, prompting warnings from the Biden administration against Beijing''s coercive actions against the self-ruled island.
During the meeting, Sullivan raised areas where the United States and China have an interest in working together to address vital transnational challenges, and ways to manage "risks" in the relationship, the White House said in a readout of the call.
Sullivan raised a number of areas where the US have concern with the Chinese actions, including actions related to human rights, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and Taiwan, it said.
The meeting between Sullivan and Yang, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, followed up on the September 9 phone call between Biden and Xi in which the leaders discussed the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition between the two countries.
The decision on virtual summit was taken given that the two leaders are unlikely to be present at the same time for the rest of the year.
“I think all of you will have seen reported that Xi Jinping does not plan to travel to the G20 and in the conversations today we therefore, discussed what might be waiting for the new leaders, to have more substantive engagement given that we don't expect to be in the same place in the near future,” a senior administration official said.
“So, we do have an agreement in principle to hold a virtual bilateral meeting between the leaders before the end of the year,” said the official, noting that the details of the meetings are still being worked out.
"Sullivan made clear that while we will continue to invest in our own national strength and work closely with our allies and partners, we will also continue to engage with the People's Republic of China (PRC) at a senior level to ensure responsible competition," the White House readout said.
According to the senior administration official, the conversation between Sullivan and Yang was candid, direct and wide-ranging.
Sullivan also raised areas where the US has concerns about China's behaviour, the official said, listing human rights; Xinjiang province, where Beijing has been engaged in a campaign against ethnic Uyghurs that administration officials have said amount to genocide.
He also discussed the growing tensions in the South China Sea, where China has been expanding its territorial ambitions in the contested waters. Sullivan also discussed the situation in Hong Kong, a former British colony where Beijing has violated agreements with the territory to crush dissent and democracy there.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said this week that she will seek new talks with China over its failure to keep promises made in the first part of a trade deal struck with former president Donald Trump.
Since 2017, the US and China have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's goods after Washington accused Beijing of blocking access to its markets and stealing American intellectual property.
Sullivan was also "quite frank" about Taiwan, the official said. "The national security adviser made quite clear concerns we have about Beijing''s recent provocative activities, and our concerns about the continued pressure and coercion that we see by Beijing across the Strait," the official said.
Sullivan made clear the US will "continue to support Taiwan''s self-defence and we will oppose any unilateral actions to change the status quo," the official said.
Taiwan is a self-governed island of about 24 million people off the Chinese coast that Beijing considers part of its territory.
Taiwan said this week that nearly 150 Chinese military aircraft entered its air defence identification zone in a four-day period beginning Friday.
Sullivan also raised areas where the Biden administration believes US and Chinese interests are aligned and they can work together - like climate change.
The two sides, in a candid manner, had a comprehensive and in-depth exchange of views on China-US relations as well as international and regional issues of common concern. The meeting was described as constructive, and conducive to enhancing mutual understanding, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.
"When China and the United States cooperate, the two countries and the world will benefit; when China and the United States are in confrontation, the two countries and the world will suffer seriously, Yang, who is also director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, said.
The US needs to have a deep understanding of the mutually beneficial nature of China-US relations and correctly understand China's domestic and foreign policies and strategic intentions, said Yang, adding that China opposes defining the bilateral relations as "competitive."
Yang said that Beijing hopes the US could adopt a rational and pragmatic China policy, and, together with China, follow a path of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation, with respect for each other''s core interests and major concerns.
The Xinhua report did not mention about the planned virtual meeting between Xi and Biden as indicated by the White House.
Sullivan's meetings on Wednesday seemed to be a sharp contrast from the last time he and Yang sat down in Alaska in March, when the top Chinese diplomat lectured him and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the ABC News commented.
What was to be a brief photo-op turned into a contentious and unusually public spat between the two sides, setting the tone for continued tensions in the relationship, it said on the previous meeting held on March 19, the first high-level meeting since President Biden took office in January.