Biden and Xi talk to ensure that ‘competition does not turn into conflict’ between US and China

WASHINGTON AND BEIJING — US President Joe Biden on Friday had his second phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took office in January. In the 90-minute phone call, the leaders of the two biggest global powers agreed to act to prevent bilateral tensions from escalating into open confrontation.

According to a statement released by the White House, the connection was initiated by Biden and focused on the future of the relationship between Washington and Beijing, marked by a trade war and disputes on technological, military, territorial fronts and on the origin of Covid-19 . The note also discussed the “responsibility of both nations to ensure that competition does not turn into conflict,” with Biden underscoring the “permanent US interest in peace, stability and prosperity” in Asia.

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“The two leaders had a broad and strategic discussion in which they discussed areas in which our interests converge, and areas in which our interests, values ​​and perspectives diverge,” the note stated. “They agreed to engage in both issues openly and directly.”

In his nearly eight months in power, the Democrat has maintained the combative stance of his predecessor, Donald Trump, in the face of the Asian giant, and talks between representatives of both sides have not made significant progress.

The Biden government, however, has signaled that it is still reviewing its China-related policy, including how to proceed on the $300 billion in tariffs imposed on Chinese imports by Trump and the continuation of last year’s agreement, to which Beijing agreed. to increase its imports of American products. A Washington official said the process could be completed soon, optimism that saw the renminbi perform at its best performance in nearly three months and the major Wall Sreet indices opened higher on Friday.

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According to the Chinese state channel CCTV, Xi told Biden that the “policy adopted by the United States towards China for some time has caused serious difficulties” in bilateral relations. According to him, Beijing is ready to cooperate on issues ranging from the economy to global warming, but this must be done “with respect for everyone’s main concerns.”

“The world will benefit if China and the United States cooperate. But it will suffer if China and the United States enter into a confrontation”, said the Chinese president, according to the local press, stating that economic, sanitary and climate issues were discussed.

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Resumption of conversations

Xi also emphasized the need for the two countries to get relations “back on the right track” “as soon as possible”, saying that building good ties is not “a matter of multiple choice”, but rather “mandatory”.

According to the Chinese, both sides agreed that frequent communication between heads of state is important and that they will increase “coordination and dialogue to create conditions for the development of Sino-US relations”. The Americans, however, made no clear commitments about future contacts.

— It is possible that we will see the resumption of commercial and military talks between the two sides by the end of the year — said researcher Lu Xiang, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in an interview with the Hong Kong South China Morning Post, saying that the American initiative to call Xi portrays the pressure the White House is under from the American business community to engage with Beijing.

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The Chinese government also informed that the situation in Taiwan, considered a rebel province by Beijing, was discussed, and that the US would be committed to the principle of a single China, which guided the reestablishment of bilateral relations in the 1970s. Formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, Washington intensifies its ties with the island, making public statements in support of its government and selling billions of dollars in arms and military equipment.

According to the Americans, Biden took the opportunity to explain the intent behind some American actions interpreted as attacks against China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said later on Friday that Xi made it clear that both states should seek to “inject a more positive dynamic into the relationship”, reiterating that it is necessary to “properly manage differences” .

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The two countries start from different approaches: while the US seeks to separate more consensual issues such as climate change from controversial issues such as trade and human rights, the Chinese want a global approach to all issues. That was made clear last week when Biden’s special climate envoy, John Kerry, attended meetings with Chinese Chancellor Wang Yi.

At the time, the Chinese said that “climate cooperation cannot be separated from the environment of general relations”, calling on the Americans to “find China midway and take positive action to put the relationship on the right path.”

In March, the first talks between high-ranking US and Chinese representatives, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, ended in exchange for barbs. In July, Chinese Vice Chancellor Xie Feng gave US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Feng a list of Beijing’s conditions for improving relations — including items related to ending sanctions imposed by Washington.

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In the South China Morning Post, White House officials said they suspect Chinese rhetoric is more about responding to domestic nationalism than sending a message to Americans, which heightens the importance of direct conversations between the two leaders.

Hours after calling Biden, Xi also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, urging the European Union to adopt a “right” policy toward China, Chinese state media said. Xi also said he wanted to work with Germany on the Afghan crisis and said he hoped the Comprehensive Investment Agreement (which became known by its acronym CAI), signed last year between Beijing and the EU after seven years of negotiations, would be ratified. coming soon.

The pact would further open the Chinese market to European investors and give Beijing access to European retail and renewable energy markets. The European Parliament, however, makes ratification conditional on the end of sanctions China imposed on five MEPs in March — a retaliation for similar measures imposed by the EU, UK, Canada and the US related to allegations of human rights violations against Uighur Muslims in Chinese province of Xinjiang.