Top US and Chinese officials will hold a meeting this week in Switzerland that will include negotiations about a possible virtual summit between President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart.
Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, will meet Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, on Wednesday, according to three people familiar with the situation. One person said the two sides were moving closer to arranging a virtual summit between the two leaders.
Biden last month spoke to Xi on the phone, in their second conversation since he took office. He suggested that they hold an in-person summit, but Xi did not respond and urged the US to tone down its anti-China rhetoric.
Beijing has played hard to get in recent months. A planned visit to China by Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state, almost fell through after Beijing at first refused to give her a meeting with Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister.
People familiar with the Biden-Xi call had said a virtual summit might be a possible compromise, particularly since Xi has not left China since the start of the pandemic. The Sullivan-Yang meeting was first reported by the South China Morning Post.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The meeting will be the most senior face-to-face engagement since Sullivan and Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, met Yang and Wang in Alaska in March.
That meeting resulted in an extraordinary public spat, as Yang launched an anti-US diatribe after Blinken said publicly that he would raise concerns about Taiwan, the persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.
Blinken is not expected to join the meeting in Switzerland.
“We have entered a curious period in US-China ties. It is a cyclical de-risking of bilateral ties amid a long-term structural deterioration,” said Evan Medeiros, a China expert at Georgetown University who served as the top Asia adviser to President Barack Obama.
The discussions come as US-China tensions remain high over a range of issues, including the Chinese military’s increasingly assertive activity near Taiwan. In recent days, China has flown a record numbers of warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (Adiz), as part of a campaign to intimidate the country, which Beijing claims as its own sovereign territory.
The Biden administration is also preparing to hold trade talks with China for the first time. Katherine Tai, US trade representative, on Monday said she would soon hold direct talks with Liu He, her Chinese counterpart.
But the US has signalled that it will not try to negotiate another deal to tackle thorny structural issues and will instead focus on persuading China to live up to the purchase commitments that it made in the “phase 1” trade deal it signed with Donald Trump in 2020.
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