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Xi, Biden trade barbs but vow to improve communication at virtual meet

US President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington, US, on November 15, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

In a highly anticipated summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Joe Biden on Monday, there were no breakthroughs and no signs of détente between the two sides.

The virtual meeting that came amidst heightened tensions between the US and China, the two economic giants, saw Xi warn Biden that US support for Taiwanese independence was like "playing with fire.... and those who play with fire will get burned."

Biden, for his part, said he expected the two sides to discuss areas where there are vast differences, including human rights, economics, and “ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The meeting began cordially, with Xi saying he was “happy” to meet his “old friend”, referring to Biden, adding that the two sides need to improve "communication" and face challenges "together".

"Humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together. China and the US need to increase communication and cooperation,” the Chinese leader stressed.

Biden also started on a constructive note, saying: Maybe I should start more formally, although you and I have never been that formal with one another".

While the summit did not produce any major breakthrough or break the ice between the two adversaries, the two sides did show intent to work on issues of conflict and divergence.

Xi called for “sound and stable relationship” between China and the US, which he said is required “for advancing our two countries' respective development and for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment.”

He stressed that the two sides need to “increase communication and cooperation” as the permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, while adding that China and the US should coexist in peace and shoulder international responsibilities.

Biden welcomed Xi’s comments and said their responsibility as leaders of the two nations is “to ensure that our competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended, just simple, straightforward competition."

“We need to establish common-sense guardrails to be clear and honest where we disagree, and work together where our interests intersect... Our bilateral relationship of all seems to me to have a profound impact not only on our countries but quite frankly the rest of the world,” Biden asserted.

Biden said the two officials have always communicated “honestly and candidly” while asserting that “it’s just pure business.”

Issues that came up for discussion include trade, with Biden highlighting the "need to protect American workers and industries from the PRC's unfair trade and economic practices".

Biden also expressed concern about China's practices in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, although no elaborate details were presented in media on it.

Xi, in response, told Biden that the US needed to stop "abusing the concept of national security to oppress Chinese companies”.

Issues like the Indo-Pacific region were also discussed, as well as the climate crisis and the role the US and China play in this, reports said.

The White House in a statement said that Biden "underscored that the United States remains committed to the 'One China' policy".

"[It] strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the statement noted.

Both China and the US are at critical stages of development, and the “global village” of humanity faces multiple challenges, Xi said, expressing his readiness to work with the US President to build consensus and take active steps to push bilateral relations in a positive direction.

This was the third time the two leaders have spoken since Biden's inauguration in January, and came against the backdrop of rising tensions between them, mainly over the South China Sea, Chinese Taipei, technology and trade.

The last time Biden and Xi spoke was in September, in a phone call that lasted 90 minutes. They also spoke for two hours in February, which was their first phone call since Biden took office.

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