Biden-Xi virtual talks kick off as U.S. and China seek to ease soaring tensions

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping kicked off their first face-to-face meeting — albeit via a secure videoconference line — as both sides looked to head off the possibility of conflict amid their intensifying rivalry.

In opening remarks ahead of Monday’s meeting in Washington, Biden said that he hoped to have a “candid and forthright discussion” with Xi over a range of issues, with Taiwan, human rights and climate change expected to take top billing.

“We need to establish some common-sense guardrails,” Biden said in introductory remarks ahead of the meeting, while also emphasizing the possibility of collaboration, “especially on vital global issues like climate change.”

“We have a responsibility to the world as well as to our people,” Biden said. “All countries have to play by the same rules of the road.”

Xi said China and the U.S. should respect each other, coexist in peace, pursue win-win cooperation, and manage domestic affairs well while shouldering international responsibilities, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, state-run media reported.

Sino-U.S. ties have deteriorated in recent months, with the world’s two biggest economies grappling over trade, China’s military moves near Taiwan, its growing maritime assertiveness and the origin of the deadly coronavirus.

The soured relationship has stoked concern in Tokyo, which has said stable ties are crucial for the region.

“Stable ties between the United States and China are extremely important for the international community, and the government has been paying close attention to the situation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the Japanese government’s top spokesman, told a news conference Monday. “Japan continues to work with its ally the U.S. in building a strong relationship of trust and we would like to encourage China to fulfill its responsibilities as a major power.”

A senior Biden administration official, however, looked to lower expectations ahead of the meeting, saying that “major deliverables” were unlikely to emerge from the talks.

“This meeting is about our ongoing efforts to responsibly manage the competition, not about agreeing to a specific deliverable or outcome,” the senior official said on condition of anonymity. “Setting the terms of the competition will be an ongoing effort, and this meeting between the two leaders is one step in that.

“We want to make clear our intentions and our priorities to avoid misunderstandings,” the official added.

The official said the talks could run for several hours.

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