Joe Biden to press Xi Jinping on reopening military communications at San Francisco summit

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Joe Biden will press Xi Jinping on the need to revive communications between the US and Chinese militaries when the two presidents hold a summit ahead of next week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The White House on Friday said Biden and Xi would meet in the San Francisco Bay area on Wednesday before they attend Apec. The two sides are trying to renew efforts to stabilise relations amid rising tensions over issues including Chinese military activity near Taiwan and US efforts to stop China from securing cutting-edge US technology.

The summit will be their second in-person meeting as leaders and comes one year after they met at the G20 in Bali, Indonesia. Xi has not been to the US since April 2017 when he met then-president Donald Trump in Florida. Xi is expected to attend a dinner with US executives after meeting Biden.

US officials said the leaders would discuss a range of matters, including the prospect of reopening military communication channels that China shut last year after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.

Washington has been vocal in raising concern about Chinese fighter jets flying too close to US spy planes and surveillance aircraft flown by US allies, including Canada, over the South China Sea.

“The president has been determined to take the necessary steps to restore what we believe are central communications between the US and China on the military side,” said one US official.

The official said Biden would raise concerns with Xi about “dangerous” and “provocative” Chinese military activity around Taiwan, which has soared since the US president took office nearly three years ago.

“The president has made those points consistently, and he will do so again next week in San Francisco,” the official said.

Officials said Biden would also discuss the conflict in Ukraine with Xi. Treasury secretary Janet Yellen on Friday said she had told her counterpart He Lifeng in a two-day meeting in San Francisco that the US wanted Beijing to crack down on private Chinese companies selling equipment to Russia to facilitate Moscow’s war with Kyiv.

“I stressed . . . that it is critical to us that companies not provide material for Russia’s defence industrial sector and that we were prepared to put in place further sanctions,” Yellen said. “We would like to see China crack down [on the companies], especially when we provide information.”

Officials stressed that the Biden-Xi summit, which follows months of high-level engagements, did not mark a change in US policy towards China but a recognition that the powers needed effective channels of communication.

“Intense competition requires and demands intense diplomacy to manage tensions and to prevent competition from verging into conflict,” the US official said. “Diplomacy is how we clear up misperceptions, signal, communicate, avoid surprises and explain our competitive steps.”

Xie Feng, China’s ambassador to the US, said the two presidents would have “in-depth communication on issues of strategic, overarching and fundamental importance in shaping China-US relations and major issues concerning world peace and development”.

US-China relations are in their worst state since the countries normalised diplomatic ties in 1979. Washington is concerned about issues including the Chinese export of ingredients for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is now the leading killer of young Americans.

Beijing, meanwhile, is critical of US efforts to restrain its military modernisation through export controls designed to slow its progress in developing advanced chips for applications such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

When the two leaders met in Bali last November, they agreed on the need to stabilise relations to reduce the chances of rising competition between the rivals veering into military conflict.

But efforts to set a “floor” under the relationship were derailed when a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over the US in February.

Yellen said the US and China had improved communications in recent months. She said she had held detailed discussions about the Chinese economy with He, China’s vice-premier, and that Beijing believed it was “forcefully addressing” its domestic economic issues, including the crisis in its property market. 

The Treasury secretary said Chinese officials were keen to avoid further inflating the country’s property market or adding more debt to local governments’ balance sheets. “They don’t want to put in place measures that would provide some short-term boost to the economy but at the expense of exacerbating longer-term problems,” Yellen said.

Noting China’s declining holdings of US Treasuries, she said Chinese officials were keen to prevent further depreciation of their currency and “it would not be surprising if they are running down Treasury holdings to some extent in order to support their currency”.

Yellen said the two sides had not discussed Beijing’s delay in approving US chip group Broadcom’s $69bn acquisition of VMware, which has forced the companies to postpone closing the merger.

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