BEIJING – Chinese and US officials have been discussing a possible face-to-face meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden, with a report suggesting that two regional summits in South-east Asia in November are potential venues for the talks.
“I can confirm that the two leaders… discussed a possible face-to-face meeting during their recent call and agreed to have their teams follow up to sort out the specifics,” said Mr Kurt Campbell, Mr Biden’s top adviser for Indo-Pacific affairs.
Mr Campbell, who was referring to the phone call between the presidents in late July, did not confirm reported details of the meeting.
“We don’t have anything further in terms of details on time or location,” he said at a press briefing in Washington on Friday (Aug 12).
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Chinese officials are making preparations for Mr Xi to visit South-east Asia in November and to meet Mr Biden.
Mr Xi could attend the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Bali from Nov 15 to 16, according to the report. The G-20 is an intergovernmental forum of 19 countries and the European Union.
He is also expected to travel to Bangkok to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit – a gathering of 21 Pacific rim countries – two days later, reported the newspaper, citing people familiar with the preparations.
On the cards would be a possible meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Biden, likely to be held on the sidelines of one of the two summits, the report said.
If the visit does happen, it would take place after the Communist Party of China congress in autumn, at which Mr Xi is expected to seek an unprecedented third term in power, suggesting that the Chinese leader is confident he would remain in power.
The trip would also be the first time Mr Xi is travelling outside of China since the country restricted travel in and out of its borders because of the pandemic. His last overseas trip was to Myanmar in January 2020.
The meeting between the two leaders would come at a time when relations between their countries are under great strain over the recent visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Mrs Pelosi, the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, had made the trip to the self-ruled island despite stern warnings from Beijing.
China had responded with a week of military drills of unprecedented scale and intensity around Taiwan, which it sees as a renegade province. It also halted cooperation on a range of issues with the US, including military talks – a significant worsening of the state of bilateral relations.
Mr Campbell called China’s moves part of an “intensified pressure campaign” to change the status quo on the issue of Taiwan.
He said the US will boost trade with the island and US forces will continue with transits along the Taiwan Strait.
“We’ll continue to fly, sail and operate where international law allows, consistent with our longstanding commitment to freedom of navigation, and that includes conducting standard air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks.”
But Washington will continue to keep lines of communication open with Beijing, said Mr Campbell. He also called on China to reopen channels of cooperation with the US, saying “this is what the world demands of responsible powers”.
Professor Zhu Feng, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Nanjing University, said the fact that discussions are still under way for the two leaders to meet indicated that both sides recognised they should stop relations from sliding further.
He pointed out that after the last Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996 – when China lobbed missiles into the waters near Taiwan ahead of the island’s first direct presidential election – then President Jiang Zemin made a high-profile visit to the US in 1997.
The following year, his US counterpart Bill Clinton visited China. The two visits ended a chill in bilateral relations.
“This latest Taiwan Strait crisis is a very stark reminder to both sides,” said Prof Zhu. “The most important thing about a crisis like this is that both sides need to… recognise the importance of keeping relations stable.”