President Joe Biden spoke on Thursday by telephone with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and both acknowledged their responsibility to ensure that the “competition” between their respective countries “does not veer into conflict.”
The conversation was only the second between the leaders of the two powers since Biden came to power last January, following the lengthy phone chat they shared in February, and coincides with strong tensions in the bilateral relationship.
“The two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge,” the White House said in a statement.
The two “agreed to engage on both sets of issues openly and straightforwardly,” the statement added, issued late Thursday in Washington, when it was already Friday morning in Beijing.
It was Biden who made the decision to call Xi, and he did so motivated by his “exasperation” over the alleged reluctance of lower-ranking Chinese officials to hold serious talks with his government.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited China in July to meet with her counterpart, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, but that meeting proved fruitless and the diplomat returned to Washington with the feeling that her interlocutors had merely reiterated their positions, without negotiating.
Thursday’s call was a test, to see if talks at the highest possible level are more effective, given the consolidation of power around Xi, a senior U.S. official told CBS News.
The White House was more diplomatic in its statement, merely indicating that Biden called Xi as part of the ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition” with China.
“President Biden underscored the United States’ enduring interest in peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world and the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict,” the statement concluded.
The White House did not offer details on the specific issues addressed by the two leaders, but on other occasions, the Biden Administration has identified the climate crisis and the prevention of tensions on the Korean peninsula as two issues in which both powers have common interests.
In recent months, the relationship has soured over the U.S. accusation that China was behind the global cyberattack against Microsoft in March, something Beijing has strongly denied.
In addition, friction has grown over U.S. warnings to American companies not to do business with entities operating in Hong Kong or in China’s northwestern Xianjiang region, where Washington accuses Beijing of serious abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.
During the call, Xi told Biden that if Beijing and Washington clash “both countries and the world will suffer,” according to a statement from the Asian country’s Foreign Ministry.
Biden and Xi have not met for now in person, although the White House has not ruled out that they could do so during the G20 leaders’ summit, to be held at the end of October in Rome.