China’s foreign minister is to visit the White House Friday for talks with Joe Biden’s national security chief, and possibly the US president himself, amid preparations for a potential trip by President Xi Jinping.
Biden has invited Xi to San Francisco next month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, but he has also stood firm on China in the run-up, keeping up a stream of sanctions and backing US allies in disputes with Beijing.
Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi will speak with Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “as part of ongoing efforts to responsibly manage the relationship”, the White House said in a statement this week.
The pair previously met in Malta in September and in Vienna in May, as efforts to smooth tensions between the two superpowers have gathered steam.
White House officials would not confirm a meeting between Wang and Biden, but an encounter is widely expected after Xi received US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Beijing in June.
“Mr Sullivan’s looking forward to this discussion with Wang Yi. It’s another milestone in that effort to keep the lines of communication open with the PRC,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday, using the US acronym for China.
“It’ll be an opportunity for Mr Sullivan to obviously address areas of concern that we continue to have with some of the PRC’s behavior, particularly in the South China Sea.
“But it’ll also be an opportunity to explore ways in which we can continue to keep these channels open and to try to get open the military to military channel communication, which is still closed.”
Wang met Blinken in Washington on Thursday, and said he wanted to “stabilize US-China relations” and “reduce misunderstanding” after years of tensions.
Acknowledging that differences will still come up, Wang said China would respond “calmly, because we are of the view that what is right and what is wrong is not determined by who has the stronger arm or the louder voice.”
The Chinese and US presidents have had no contact since a meeting in Bali in November 2022.
Relations have been tense for years between world’s top two economies as they vie for influence in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, and as Beijing boosts cooperation with Russia in a bid to reduce US dominance.
Tensions have been particularly high over Taiwan, the self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing which over the past year has launched major military exercises in response to actions by US lawmakers.
The United States and China have also traded barbs over the conflict in the Middle East, where Biden has been Israel’s foremost ally.
US officials have repeatedly spoken of creating “guardrails” with China to prevent worst-case scenarios and have sought, without success, to restore contact between the two militaries.
Biden on Wednesday warned China of US treaty obligations to the Philippines, which said that Chinese vessels deliberately hit Manila’s boats in dispute-rife waters — an account contested by Beijing.
Speaking alongside Australia’s prime minister, a key Asia-Pacific ally, Biden vowed to compete with China “every way according to the international rules — economically, politically, in other ways. But I’m not looking for conflict.”