President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China’s Xi Jinping on Monday by saying their goal is to ensure competition “does not veer into conflict.”
The two leaders are meeting by video amid mounting tensions in the U.S.-China relationship. Biden has criticized Beijing over human rights abuses against Uyghurs in northwest China, squelching 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 it sees as internal Chinese matters.
“It seems to be our responsibility as the leaders of China and the United States to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended, rather than simple, straightforward competition,” Biden said at the start of the meeting.
Xi told Biden the two sides need to improve communication. The two leaders traveled together when both were vice presidents and know each other well.
“I stand ready to work with you, Mr. President, to build consensus, take active steps and move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction,” said Xi, who called Biden his “old friend.”
The U.S. president was joined in the Roosevelt Room for the video call by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and national security aides Kurt Campbell, Laura Rosenberger and Jon Czin.
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.
Biden would have preferred to meet Xi in person, but the Chinese leader has not left his country since before 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.