WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone for the first time in seven months on Thursday to repair declining efforts to “manage competition responsibly” between the world’s two most powerful nations, the White House said with.
Biden and Xi spoke for about 90 minutes, with Biden calling from the contract room on the second floor of the White House residence, a senior Biden administration official said. The tone between the two presidents, who have known each other for years, was “familiar” and “sincere” when discussing a “wide-ranging” range of issues, the official said. In one opinion In describing the appeal, the White House said that Biden had underscored “America’s continuing interest in peace, stability and prosperity” in Asia and beyond.
“The two heads of state and government discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure that competition does not get into conflict,” said the White House.
Xi told Biden that US policy towards China has created serious difficulties for the two countries’ relations, according to a reading of the appeal released by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. He said China and the US should work to get their relationship back on track and that both countries have agreed to maintain frequent contact and instruct their work-level teams to step up communication.
The call, which took place after sunset on Thursday in Washington but early Friday morning in Beijing, is the first known conversation between the two heads of state and government since February. On that call, their first since Biden’s inauguration, the two spoke for two hours, Biden said. After that, he warned that if the US doesn’t move, it will eat our lunch.
The call comes because the Biden administration is struggling to gain a foothold in a relationship that White House officials hope can be both competitive and collaborative at the same time. The world’s two largest economies were sharply divided on a number of issues including cybersecurity, human rights, and trade, among others.
Neither side made new commitments during the call, the senior US official said, indicating that the aim was not to make decisions but to try to break the diplomatic deadlock by bringing the issues to the two heads of state be brought up.
“The president made it clear how he was dealing with China and said that these actions may sometimes be misinterpreted” to undermine Beijing, the official said. “Let’s be clear about what our intentions are instead of changing what we’re doing because I don’t think that was anything on the table.”
Before the call on Thursday, the same official said the US hoped to set “parameters and guard rails” for “healthy competition” between the two nuclear powers. The official said China’s stance in the early negotiations between the two governments fell short of “responsible nations”.
“Unfortunately, we found that for the most part they were unwilling to have any serious or substantive discussion on these matters,” the official said. “What we got are the usual topics of conversation, which are meant for propaganda purposes rather than serious diplomatic engagement.”
The relationship got off to a bumpy start in Alaska in March, where a summit meeting between senior US and Chinese diplomats broke out into an extraordinary public argument, with each country accusing the other of violating diplomatic protocol. Chinese officials briefed the US on camera about meddling in China’s affairs and accused it of human rights hypocrisy, while US officials accused Beijing of “economic coercion” and aggressive cyberattacks.
Last week, Biden’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, John Kerry, met with senior Chinese officials in Tianjin during a visit aimed at promoting collaboration between the world’s two largest air pollution polluters. Kerry’s hosts repeatedly warned that an antagonistic approach by the Biden government to China as a whole could poison any chance for closer cooperation on climate.
“They are trying to keep working together on issues like climate change so that we can change our current competitive position,” said the senior Biden official. “But I think it is important to directly underline President Xi that we will stick to our framework and that the tough approach his administration is taking does not work with our allies and will not work” for us. “
According to Chinese state media, on the call with Biden, Xi said that China would continue to work with the US on climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.
The United States has also been watching closely how Beijing reacts to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover, and whether China will attempt to fill the vacuum of foreign influence created by the US exit. China has publicly mocked the US for its failure in Afghanistan and the embarrassing end of two decades of war, but it also has serious security concerns about instability in Afghanistan, with which it shares a short border.
CORRECTION (Sept. 11, 2021, 5:17 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the location of John Kerry’s meeting with senior Chinese officials last week. It was Tianjin, not Beijing.
Jiang Xiaotian contributed.