The United States and China have agreed in principle that their presidents hold a virtual meeting before the end of the year, a senior U.S. administration official said on Wednesday, after high-level talks aimed at improving communication between the two countries.
The closed-door meeting at an airport hotel in the Swiss city of Zurich between U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi was their first face-to-face encounter since an unusually public and acrid airing of grievances in Alaska in March.
U.S. officials had suggested that the meeting was a follow-on from President Joe Biden’s September 9 call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, prior to which the world’s top two economies appeared to have been locked in a stalemate.
The White House said Mr Sullivan raised concerns about contentious issues such as China’s actions in the South China Sea and human rights and Beijing’s stances on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan.
However, both Beijing and Washington said the talks, which lasted six hours, were constructive and candid.
The U.S. side said the tone was different from Alaska.
“We do have out of today’s conversation an agreement in principle to hold a virtual bilateral (summit) meeting before the end of the year,” the U.S. official told reporters.
Asked for further details, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We’re still working through what that would look like, when and of course the final details we don’t quite have them yet.”
Early speculation had been that the two might meet in person at the G20 summit in Italy in October, but Mr Xi has not left China since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year.
“Today’s conversation, broadly speaking, was a more meaningful and substantive engagement than we’ve had to date below the leader level,” the official said, adding that Washington hoped it would be a “model for future encounters.”
The official said it should not be seen as a thaw in relations, however.
“What we are trying to achieve is a steady state between the United States and China where we are able to compete intensely but to manage that competition responsibly,” the official said.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Mr Yang told Mr Sullivan that confrontation would damage both countries and the world.
“The two sides agreed to take action … to strengthen strategic communication, properly manage differences, avoid conflict and confrontation,” the ministry statement said.