Biden and Xi agree to look at possible arms control talks, says Biden advisor

A large screen shows US President Joe Biden, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit as people walk during the CCTV evening outside a shopping mall on November 16, 2021 in Beijing, China.

Kevin Fryer | Getty Images

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed in a virtual meeting to consider the possibility of arms control talks.

Sullivan said Biden and Xi agreed to “look forward to beginning to move forward in the discussion of strategic stability,” a reference to US concerns about China’s nuclear and missile build-up.

“You will see on multiple levels the intensification of engagement to ensure that there are protective barriers around this competition so that it does not deviate from conflict,” Sullivan said at a Brookings Institution webinar.

Sullivan did not elaborate on what form discussions about strategic stability could take, but he went on to say:

“This is not the same as what we have in the Russian context with the official Strategic Stability Dialogue. This is more mature, it has a much deeper history. There is less maturity in the US-China relationship, but the two leaders have discussed these issues and now we have to think about the most productive way to move forward.”

Washington has repeatedly urged China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty.

Beijing says the other two countries’ arsenals are dwarfed by their own. It says it is ready to hold bilateral dialogues on strategic security “on the basis of equality and mutual respect”.

It was the two leaders’ most in-depth exchanges since Biden took office in January.

Although they talked for 3-1/2 hours, the two leaders seemed to do little to narrow the differences that had raised fears of an eventual conflict between the two superpowers.

The United States expected the meeting to stabilize an increasingly volatile relationship over a series of issues, including what Washington sees as Beijing’s aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which is claimed by China.

Asked if there was any progress on the tensions over the autonomous island, Biden said: “Yes. We’ve made it clear that we support the Taiwan law and that’s it.”

Biden was referring to the Taiwan Relations Act, a US law that obligates the United States to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, even though Washington has long pursued a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about whether to intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attack.

“I said they should decide … Taiwan, not us,” Biden later added. We do not encourage independence.”

Xi told Biden at their meeting that China would take “decisive measures” if Taiwan crossed Beijing’s red line in its pursuit of independence.

Sullivan said Xi and Biden discussed a wide range of global economic issues, including how the United States and China can work together to ensure global energy supplies and price volatility do not jeopardize the global economic recovery.

At the meeting, Biden pressed his Chinese counterpart on human rights, and Xi warned that China would respond to provocations in Taiwan.

A senior US official said at a media briefing after the meeting that the US goal was not to ease tensions, nor necessarily the outcome, and there were no breakthroughs to report.

Chinese state media quoted unnamed Chinese Foreign Ministry sources as saying that the two sides would ease restrictions on the entry of journalists from the two countries.

And the China Daily said that consensus on visas for journalists, among other points, had been reached before the virtual meeting.

A US State Department spokesperson provided similar details, saying that China had committed to allowing US journalists already in the country to freely leave and return, which they had previously been unable to do. She said the United States plans to facilitate similar treatment for Chinese journalists.

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