Biden, China's Xi Jinping to Meet Virtually as U.S. Seeks Communication Amid Taiwan Tension

As tensions continue to rise between the U.S. and China, President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping plan to meet virtually before the end of 2021, according to a senior official from the Biden administration, the Associated Press reported.

Intelligence on the arrangement comes after White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held a six-hour meeting with Yang Jiechi, a senior Chinese foreign policy adviser, in Zurich, Switzerland.

During the meeting, Sullivan voiced concerns to Yang regarding China's recently increased assertiveness against Taiwan, the human rights abuses suffered by ethnic minorities in the country, and Beijing's attempts to quell pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong, according to a White House statement. Sullivan also emphasized the importance of preserving open lines of communication between the two countries.

After opting not to leave China during the COVID-19 pandemic, Xi is not expected to make more than a virtual appearance at the upcoming Group of 20 summit in Rome or the U.N. climate conference that will take place in Scotland. The senior Biden administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that further details for the meeting between the two leaders have yet to be confirmed.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Biden to Meet With Xi Jinping
President Joe Biden is expected to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping before the end of the year as tensions between the two countries continue to rise. Above, Biden listens during a meeting with business leaders about the debt limit in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on October 6, 2021, in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The official said the idea for the presidential meeting was proposed after Biden, who spent a substantial amount of time with Xi when the two were vice presidents, mentioned during their call last month that he would like to be able to see Xi again.

Sullivan made clear during the meeting that while the United States would "continue to invest in our own national strength," it sought better engagement at a senior level "to ensure responsible competition," the statement said.

U.S. officials have expressed frustration that interactions with high-level Chinese counterparts, including Yang, in the early stages of Biden's presidency have been less than constructive. But the talks Wednesday were described as respectful, constructive and perhaps the most in-depth between the sides since Biden took office in January, according to the administration official.

The White House said the meeting was intended to serve as a follow-up to last month's call between Biden and Xi in which Biden stressed the need to set clear parameters in their competition.

Still, the U.S.-China relationship has been under strain, exacerbated recently by the Chinese military's flying dozens of sorties near the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday reiterated concerns that Beijing was undermining regional peace and stability with its "provocative" action. China sent a record 56 fighter planes toward Taiwan on Monday alone.

"We strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure and coercion directed at Taiwan," said Blinken, who was in Paris for talks with French officials.

At the start of Biden's presidency, he pledged to press Beijing on its human rights record. His administration has affirmed the U.S. position, first made late in the Trump administration, that China's repression of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in its northwest Xinjiang region was "genocide."

In March, the United States, in coordination with the European Union, United Kingdom and Canada, imposed sanctions on top communist party officials for their roles in detaining and abusing Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. At June's Group of Seven summit in England, Biden successfully pressed fellow leaders to include specific language criticizing China's use of forced labor and other human rights abuses in the leaders' joint statement.

Human rights advocates and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have raised concerns that the administration might be easing pressure on human rights as it looks for cooperation from Beijing on the global effort on climate change and in thwarting North Korea's nuclear program.

The White House said last week it did not have a position on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was passed by the U.S. Senate in July.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and sponsor of the legislation, wrote in the Washington Examiner on Wednesday that "the Biden administration is choosing to ignore the Chinese Communist Party's egregious human rights abuses to strike a deal on climate."

The U.S. also signaled this week that for the time being it plans to stick with tariffs levied against China during the Trump administration.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in a speech in Washington this week, said she would begin engaging her Chinese counterparts to discuss Beijing's failure to meet commitments made in the first phase of a U.S.-China trade agreement signed in January 2020. Biden has criticized Beijing for "coercive" trade practices, including its use of forced labor, that has led to an unfair playing field.

"We will use the full range of tools we have and develop new tools as needed to defend American economic interests from harmful policies and practices," Tai said.

Chinese Leader Xi Jinping
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has not left China during the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to meet virtually with President Joe Biden before the end of the year. Above, Xi speaks via a video link during the annual gathering in New York City for the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2021, in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images