Biden and China's Xi to meet virtually on Monday

Washington and Beijing have been sparring on issues from the origins of Covid-19 to China's expanding nuclear arsenal

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with President Joe Biden inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Reuters
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US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will hold a virtual summit on Monday amid tensions over trade, human rights and military activities.

"The two leaders will discuss ways to responsibly manage the competition" between the two countries "as well as ways to work together where our interests align," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement on Friday.

"Throughout, President Biden will make clear US intentions and priorities and be clear and candid about our concerns with the PRC," Ms Psaki said, referring to Beijing by the acronym for the People's Republic of China.

Washington and Beijing have been sparring on issues from the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic to China's expanding nuclear arsenal. US officials believe direct engagement with Mr Xi is the best way to prevent the relationship between the world’s two biggest economies from spiralling towards conflict.

Beijing is also keen to avoid confrontation and focus on “positive competition,” while pushing for co-operation on issues such the climate crisis and ending the coronavirus pandemic, said one Chinese official.

A framework deal on boosting co-operation to tackle climate change, unveiled by the world's two largest economies at the UN climate conference in Scotland, sent “quite a positive signal” for the coming summit, the official said.

“We view US-China competition like a golf game, where each side focuses on its own better performance, not like a boxing game, where both sides try to knock each other out,” the official added.

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Mr Xi is likely to invite the US president to attend the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, CNBC reported on Thursday, citing two people familiar with the matter.

Such a request could put Mr Biden in an uncomfortable spot as he presses China on human rights. Mr Biden is unlikely to go to Beijing for any kind of meeting; the US president did not attend the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, a key American ally.

Mr Biden and Mr Xi last spoke on September 9, a 90-minute conversation that a senior US official said focused on economic issues, climate change and Covid-19.

Mr Biden has been eager to hold face-to-face talks with Mr Xi to try to reduce tensions with Beijing over Taiwan and a host of other issues.

US officials had wanted Mr Biden to meet Mr Xi on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Rome two weeks ago, but Mr Xi has not travelled outside of China since the pandemic broke out 21 months ago.

The latest Biden-Xi virtual meeting was agreed to in principle last month during talks in Zurich between China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who raised concerns about Chinese actions in the South China Sea, as well as human rights and Beijing's stances on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan.

The White House has characterised the coming meeting as part of continuing US efforts to “responsibly manage” competition between the two countries.

Updated: November 13, 2021, 2:41 PM