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High-Level US, China Talks Raise Prospects for Biden-Xi Call

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Top US and China officials discussed Taiwan, Ukraine and other security issues in Luxembourg, in the latest sign that leaders of the world’s two largest economies are trying to keep high-level communications open despite simmering tensions.

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The meeting between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, on Monday “included candid, substantive, and productive discussion of a number of regional and global security issues, as well as key issues in U.S.-China relations,” according to a White House statement that didn’t elaborate. The meeting lasted for four and a half hours, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters afterward.

The two men discussed Taiwan, the South China Sea, the war in Ukraine and North Korea’s nuclear program, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday. While Yang said Beijing was ready to work with Washington to find ways of cooperating, the Politburo member complained that “the U.S. side has been insisting on further containing and suppressing China in an all-round way.” He warned the US “should correct its strategic perceptions of China.”

The talks may fuel speculation that President Joe Biden and counterpart Xi Jinping will speak again soon. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe agreed to further discussions after their first face-to-face encounter Friday in Singapore. Recent in-person meetings between Sullivan and Yang in Europe -- in October and again in March -- led to calls between Biden and Xi.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that he had no information about a potential call involving the presidents. “Both China and the US believe that to keep the line of communication open is necessary and beneficial,” he said.

In the Luxembourg meeting Monday, “Mr. Sullivan underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to manage competition between our two countries,” the White House said.

He reiterated the US’s “one China” policy on Taiwan and China and expressed concern about Beijing’s activities in the Taiwan Strait, according to the senior administration official, who asked not to be identified as a condition of participation in the briefing.

US officials have grown alarmed at assertions by Chinese military officials in recent months that the Taiwan Strait isn’t international waters, Bloomberg News reported Sunday, citing a person familiar with the situation. Yang again said that the US must prudently handle the Taiwan issue, according to Xinhua, which didn’t mention the strategic waterway.

Tensions have grown in recent years over the democratically governed island, which Beijing regards as its territory. The Chinese military has regularly probed Taiwan’s air defenses with flights into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, and Austin said in a speech Saturday in Singapore that the US had observed a “steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan.”

Sullivan also expressed US concern about China’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution last month that would have imposed new sanctions on North Korea over Pyongyang’s recent ballistic missile tests, the official said.

(Updates with comments from China’s Foreign Ministry.)

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