Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping speak for first time since California summit

President Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping have spoken by phone, their first telephone conversation since 2022 and their first interaction since the two leaders met outside San Francisco for a summit meeting in November 2023.

A White House readout of the conversation described it as “a candid and constructive discussion on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, including areas of cooperation and areas of difference” and said the two leaders “reviewed and encouraged progress on key issues discussed at the Woodside Summit,” with Mr Biden taking the opportunity to stress “the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea”.

“He raised concerns over the PRC’s support for Russia’s defense industrial base and its impact on European and transatlantic security, and he emphasized the United States’ enduring commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the White House said.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on plans for the telephone call said the conversation between Mr Biden and Mr Xi is part of ongoing plans to “maintain regular open lines of communication to responsibly manage competition and prevent unintended conflict,” which both leaders agreed upon during their summit last year.

The official also said the call was meant to build on several meetings which Secretary of State Ant0ny Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan have held in recent months with the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi.

“We anticipate President Biden and President Xi will discuss the US China bilateral relationships the continued importance of strengthening lines of communication and managing competition responsibly, and a range of regional and global issues,” said the official, who also stressed that the Biden administration’s “invest, align and compete” approach to dealing with China has not changed.

“Intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage tensions, address misperceptions and prevent unintended conflict, and this call is one way to do that,” the official said, adding later that there are “areas of cooperation” where US and Chinese interests align, such as anti-narcotics work, “risk and safety issues” related to Artificial Intelligence, and climate change.

In addition, Mr Biden and Mr Xi were expected to discuss the importance of continued military-to-military communications between US forces and China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Those direct channels resumed after the two leaders met last November, following a long period of tensions that began after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in 2022. Military to military communications completely ceased following the US shootdown of a Chinese espionage balloon last February, but in the months since the summit they have resumed at all levels.

In December, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General CQ Brown met with his Chinese counterpart virtually, and in January US-China defence policy coordination talks occurred.

The official said military-to-military talks will continue at the “operator level” this week with joint US-Chinese military maritime consultative agreement meetings taking place in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“The goal of that is really to talk at the operator level about how to avoid and better understand the actions of the other party,” the official said, adding that more talks at the “minister-secretary level” as well as talks “between theatre commanders” are set to occur “in the coming months”.

“All of these interactions from the operator up to the very top [Secretary of Defense] level are important to avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations. President Biden has made clear that this ‘mil-mil’ communication is critical at all times, but especially during times of heightened tensions,” the official added.

In addition, the official said Mr Biden planned to use the call with Mr Xi to raise American concerns over China’s continued support for Russia’s war on well as ”concerns regarding the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, and PRC human rights abuses, including in Xinjiang”.