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Nov. 16, 2021, 1:34 a.m. EST

Biden, Xi agree to focus on easing tensions between the two countries in virtual summit

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping’s more than three-hour virtual talk concluded with the leaders of the superpowers agreeing they need to tread carefully as their nations find themselves in an increasingly fraught competition.

Facing domestic pressures at home, both Biden and Xi seemed determined to lower the temperature in what for both sides is their most significant — and frequently turbulent — relationship on the global stage.

“As I’ve said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Biden told Xi at the start of their virtual meeting Monday. “Just simple, straightforward competition.”

Xi greeted the U.S. president as his “old friend” and echoed Biden’s cordial tone in his own opening remarks, saying, “China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation.”

The relationship has had no shortage of tension since Biden strode into the White House in January and quickly criticized Beijing for human rights abuses against Uyghurs in northwest China, suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong, military aggression against the self-ruled island of Taiwan and more. Xi’s deputies, meanwhile, have lashed out against the Biden White House for interfering in what they see as internal Chinese matters.

The White House in a statement said that Biden again raised concerns about China’s human rights practices, and made clear that he sought to “protect American workers and industries from the PRC’s unfair trade and economic practices.” The two also spoke about key regional challenges, including North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.

As the U.S.-China tensions have mounted, both leaders also have found themselves under the weight of increased challenges in their own backyards.Biden, who has watched his poll numbers diminish amid concerns about the lingering coronavirus pandemic, inflation and supply chain problems, was looking to find a measure of equilibrium on the most consequential foreign policy matter he faces.

Xi, meanwhile, is facing a COVID-19 resurgence, rampant energy shortages, and a looming housing crisis that Biden officials worry could cause tremors in the global market.

“Right now, both China and the United States are at critical stages of development, and humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together,” Xi said.

The two leaders know each other well, having traveled together when both were vice presidents.

The U.S. president was joined in the Roosevelt Room for the video call by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a handful of aides. Xi, for his part, was accompanied in the East Hall of the Great Hall of the People by communist party director Ding Xuexiang and a number of advisers.

The high-level diplomacy had a touch of pandemic Zoom meeting informality as the two leaders waved to each other once they saw one another on the screen, with Xi telling Biden, “It’s the first time for us to meet virtually, although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting.”

Biden would have preferred to meet Xi in person, but the Chinese leader has not left his country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The White House floated the idea of a virtual meeting as the next best thing to allow for the two leaders to have a candid conversation about a wide range of strains in the relationship.

Xi told Biden that while it was nice to see him that a virtual meeting wasn’t “as good as a face-to-face meeting.”

Chinese officials said in advance that Taiwan would be their top issue for the talks. Tensions have heightened as the Chinese military has dispatched an increasing number of fighter jets near the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

“The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as China’s core interest,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Monday. “It is the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations.”The White House said Biden will abide by the longstanding U.S. “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.

Chinese military forces held exercises last week near Taiwan in response to a visit by a U.S. congressional delegation to the island.

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