High tension clouds Joe Biden’s first summit with China’s Xi

Differences on Taiwan, trade, human rights and nuclear arsenal have halted progress in US-China relations

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden will hold a virtual summit on Monday evening. AFP
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US President Joe Biden’s first virtual summit with China’s leader Xi Jinping on Monday comes at a low point in the relationship between the two countries amid heightened concerns over a military confrontation in Taiwan and growing nuclear arsenals.

Mr Biden, who had hoped for an in-person meeting with Mr Xi, has settled for a two-hour virtual meeting from the White House on Monday. The Chinese leader has not left the country in nearly two years.

China's Communist Party passed a resolution last week that secures a third term for Mr Xi.

But as the Chinese leader's power is increasing at home, Beijing's relations with Washington have only soured since Mr Biden took office in January. The two men have only spoken by phone twice, with the last call in September, lasting 90 minutes.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the virtual meeting between the leaders is expected to last "a couple of hours".

"The president feels that he's able to have candid discussions with President Xi ... whom he can raise directly areas where we have concern, whether it's security issues, whether it's economic issues, whether it is human rights issues," she said to a question at Monday's press briefing.

"And he will certainly do that this evening during the call. But he will also look for areas where we can work together and where there are areas where there is cohesion of opportunity moving forward."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a lengthy phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday in which he raised concerns over China's growing military pressure on Taiwan.

“The secretary emphasised the long-standing US interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and expressed concern regarding the [China's] continued military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan,” a readout of the call from the State Department said.

“He urged Beijing to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve cross-strait issues peacefully and in a manner consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan.”

Last Tuesday, China conducted more military exercises off the Taiwanese coast. The Biden administration has increased US naval presence in the area, and Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen confirmed last month that US troops have been training the Taiwanese military.

Reuters reported that in his call with Mr Blinken, Mr Yi said that any show of support for Taiwan’s independence would “boomerang” on the US.

The spiralling relationship has also been fuelled by China’s growing nuclear arsenal. US officials told The Financial Times last month that Beijing had tested a nuclear hypersonic glider launched from space. China did not confirm the test had occurred.

Other differences have revolved around the origins of Covid-19, energy prices and China’s rising influence in Europe and Africa.

Mr Blinken “also stressed the importance of taking measures to ensure global energy supply and price volatility do not imperil global economic recovery”, the State Department said.

But the two countries have been able to co-operate on issues of common concern such as Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear talks and climate change. The two issued a joint declaration after the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last week, pledging close co-operation in meeting promises made in the Paris Agreement and reducing carbon emissions.

Updated: November 15, 2021, 11:52 PM