China on Tuesday hailed a virtual meeting between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden, saying they had a candid and constructive exchange that sent a strong signal to the world.
The positive description of the meeting came in sharp contrast to heated exchanges between the two nations earlier this year. The talks appeared to mark what both sides hoped would be a turnaround in relations, though major differences remain.
“If China-U.S. relations cannot return to the past, they should face the future,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
The video conference between the two leaders and their senior aides lasted more than three hours and was their first formal meeting since Biden took office in January.
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.”
The White House set low expectations for the meeting, and no major announcements or even a joint statement were delivered. Still, White House officials said the two leaders had a substantive exchange.
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.”
However, Xi held a tough line on Taiwan, which Chinese officials had signaled would be a top issue for them at the talks. Tensions have heightened as the Chinese military has dispatched an increasing number of fighter jets near the self-ruled island, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
Xi blamed the tensions on Taiwan seeking to attain independence through reliance on the U.S. and some on the American side using Taiwan as a way to interefere in China, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
“This is extremely dangerous, it’s playing with fire, and they that play with fire will burn themselves,” Xi was quoted as saying by the agency.
Chinese military forces held exercises last week near Taiwan in response to a visit by a U.S. congressional delegation to the island.
The White House said Biden reiterated the U.S. will abide by the longstanding U.S. “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. But Biden also made clear the U.S. “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the White House said.