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World: China hails Xi and Biden talks, after year of growing strain

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BEIJING (AP) — China on Tuesday hailed a virtual meeting between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden, saying they had a candid and constructive exchange that sent a strong signal to the world.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency Chinese President Xi Jinping, right and U.S. President Joe Biden appear on a screen as they hold a meeting via video link, in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China's President Xi Jinping by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to ensure that competition between the two superpowers © Provided by Associated Press In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency Chinese President Xi Jinping, right and U.S. President Joe Biden appear on a screen as they hold a meeting via video link, in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China's President Xi Jinping by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to ensure that competition between the two superpowers "does not veer into conflict." (Yue Yuewei/Xinhua via AP)

The positive description of the meeting came in sharp contrast to heated exchanges between the two nations earlier this year. The talks appeared to mark what both sides hoped would be a turnaround in relations, though major differences remain.

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency Chinese President Xi Jinping, fourth from right waves as he greets U.S. President Joe Biden via video link from Beijing, China on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Biden opened his virtual meeting with Xi by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to ensure that competition between the two superpowers © Provided by Associated Press In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency Chinese President Xi Jinping, fourth from right waves as he greets U.S. President Joe Biden via video link from Beijing, China on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Biden opened his virtual meeting with Xi by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to ensure that competition between the two superpowers "does not veer into conflict." (Ding Lin/Xinhua via AP)

“If China-U.S. relations cannot return to the past, they should face the future,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

President Joe Biden meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) © Provided by Associated Press President Joe Biden meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The video conference between the two leaders and their senior aides lasted more than three hours and was their first formal meeting since Biden took office in January.

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Facing domestic pressures at home, both Biden and Xi seemed determined to lower the temperature in what for both sides is their most significant — and frequently turbulent — relationship on the global stage.

“As I’ve said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Biden told Xi at the start of their virtual meeting Monday. “Just simple, straightforward competition.”

The White House set low expectations for the meeting, and no major announcements or even a joint statement were delivered. Still, White House officials said the two leaders had a substantive exchange.

President Joe Biden meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) © Provided by Associated Press President Joe Biden meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Xi greeted the U.S. president as his “old friend” and echoed Biden’s cordial tone in his own opening remarks, saying, “China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation.”

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  China Not Looking to 'Surpass or Replace' United States, Beijing Says China's Foreign Ministry echoed recent comments by Xi Jinping, who said both China and the U.S. stood to lose from confrontation.Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Washington needed to "adjust its mentality" and a take a rational view of China's rise. Beijing has accused elected officials in America of exaggerating the threat it poses to the U.S. and its alliance system, particularly in Asia.

However, Xi held a tough line on Taiwan, which Chinese officials had signaled would be a top issue for them at the talks. Tensions have heightened as the Chinese military has dispatched an increasing number of fighter jets near the self-ruled island, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

Xi blamed the tensions on Taiwan seeking to attain independence through reliance on the U.S. and some on the American side using Taiwan as a way to interefere in China, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

President Joe Biden meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken listen. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) © Provided by Associated Press President Joe Biden meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken listen. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“This is extremely dangerous, it’s playing with fire, and they that play with fire will burn themselves,” Xi was quoted as saying by the agency.

Chinese military forces held exercises last week near Taiwan in response to a visit by a U.S. congressional delegation to the island.

Op-Ed: How U.S.-China 'competition' could lead both countries to disaster

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The White House said Biden reiterated the U.S. will abide by the longstanding U.S. “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. But Biden also made clear the U.S. “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the White House said.

FILE - Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice President Joe Biden hold T-shirts students gave them at the International Studies Learning Center in South Gate, Calif., Feb. 17, 2012. As President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first summit on Monday, Nov. 15, the increasingly fractured U.S.-China relationship has demonstrated that the ability to connect on a personal level has its limits. Biden nonetheless believes there is value in a face-to-face meeting, even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold Monday evening. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice President Joe Biden hold T-shirts students gave them at the International Studies Learning Center in South Gate, Calif., Feb. 17, 2012. As President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first summit on Monday, Nov. 15, the increasingly fractured U.S.-China relationship has demonstrated that the ability to connect on a personal level has its limits. Biden nonetheless believes there is value in a face-to-face meeting, even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold Monday evening. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

The relationship has had no shortage of tension since Biden strode into the White House in January and quickly criticized Beijing for human rights abuses against Uyghurs in northwest China, suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong, military aggression against the self-ruled island of Taiwan and more. Xi’s deputies, meanwhile, have lashed out against the Biden White House for interfering in what they see as internal Chinese matters.

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FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vice President Joe Biden walk down the red carpet on the tarmac during an arrival ceremony in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. As President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first summit on Monday, Nov. 15, the increasingly fractured U.S.-China relationship has demonstrated that the ability to connect on a personal level has its limits. Biden nonetheless believes there is value in a face-to-face meeting, even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold Monday evening. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vice President Joe Biden walk down the red carpet on the tarmac during an arrival ceremony in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. As President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first summit on Monday, Nov. 15, the increasingly fractured U.S.-China relationship has demonstrated that the ability to connect on a personal level has its limits. Biden nonetheless believes there is value in a face-to-face meeting, even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold Monday evening. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

The White House in a statement said that Biden again raised concerns about China's human rights practices, and made clear that he sought to “protect American workers and industries from the PRC’s unfair trade and economic practices.” The two also spoke about key regional challenges, including North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.

As U.S.-China tensions have mounted, both leaders also have found themselves under the weight of increased challenges in their own backyards.

FILE - Xi Jinping, China's president and Communist Party chief, left, eats a Hawaiian macadamia chocolate gifted by Governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, not seen, during a governors meeting held inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall as Vice President Joe Biden, right, looks on in Los Angeles., Feb. 17, 2012. As President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first summit on Monday, Nov. 15, the increasingly fractured U.S.-China relationship has demonstrated that the ability to connect on a personal level has its limits. Biden nonetheless believes there is value in a face-to-face meeting, even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold Monday evening. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Xi Jinping, China's president and Communist Party chief, left, eats a Hawaiian macadamia chocolate gifted by Governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, not seen, during a governors meeting held inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall as Vice President Joe Biden, right, looks on in Los Angeles., Feb. 17, 2012. As President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first summit on Monday, Nov. 15, the increasingly fractured U.S.-China relationship has demonstrated that the ability to connect on a personal level has its limits. Biden nonetheless believes there is value in a face-to-face meeting, even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold Monday evening. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Biden, who has watched his poll numbers diminish amid concerns about the lingering coronavirus pandemic, inflation and supply chain problems, was looking to find a measure of equilibrium on the most consequential foreign policy matter he faces.

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Xi, meanwhile, is facing a COVID-19 resurgence, rampant energy shortages, and a looming housing crisis that Biden officials worry could cause tremors in the global market.

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden as they pose for photos at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Dec. 4, 2013. As President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first summit on Monday, Nov. 15, the increasingly fractured U.S.-China relationship has demonstrated that the ability to connect on a personal level has its limits. Biden nonetheless believes there is value in a face-to-face meeting, even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold Monday evening. (AP Photo/Lintao Zhang, Pool, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden as they pose for photos at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Dec. 4, 2013. As President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first summit on Monday, Nov. 15, the increasingly fractured U.S.-China relationship has demonstrated that the ability to connect on a personal level has its limits. Biden nonetheless believes there is value in a face-to-face meeting, even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold Monday evening. (AP Photo/Lintao Zhang, Pool, File)

“Right now, both China and the United States are at critical stages of development, and humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together,” Xi said.

The U.S. president was joined in the Roosevelt Room for the video call by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a handful of aides. Xi, for his part, was accompanied in the East Hall of the Great Hall of the People by communist party director Ding Xuexiang and a number of advisers.

A police officer stands on duty near art work outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China's President Xi Jinping by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to ensure that competition between the two superpowers © Provided by Associated Press A police officer stands on duty near art work outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China's President Xi Jinping by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to ensure that competition between the two superpowers "does not veer into conflict." (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The high-level diplomacy had a touch of pandemic Zoom meeting informality as the two leaders waved to each other once they saw one another on the screen, with Xi telling Biden, “It’s the first time for us to meet virtually, although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting.”

On Biden's foreign policy: Columnist and author Max Boot

  On Biden's foreign policy: Columnist and author Max Boot This week, host Michael Morell talks with Boot about the top foreign policy challenges the Biden administration is likely to face.Download, rate and subscribe here: iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher.

Biden would have preferred to meet Xi in person, but the Chinese leader has not left his country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The White House floated the idea of a virtual meeting as the next best thing to allow for the two leaders to have a candid conversation about a wide range of strains in the relationship.

Chinese security personnel stand on duty near art work outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China's President Xi Jinping by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to ensure that competition between the two superpowers © Provided by Associated Press Chinese security personnel stand on duty near art work outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China's President Xi Jinping by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to ensure that competition between the two superpowers "does not veer into conflict." (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

With Beijing set to host the Winter Olympics in February and Xi expected to be approved by Communist Party leaders to serve as party leader next year and then a third term as president in 2023 — unprecedented in recent Chinese history — the Chinese leader may be looking to stabilize the relationship in the near term.

Both leaders gave nods to their history with the other. Biden noted that the two have spent an “awful ... lot of time” speaking to each other over the years, and have never walked away “wondering what the other man is thinking.”

But the public warmth — Xi referred to Biden as his “old friend” when the then-vice president visited China in 2013, while Biden spoke of their “friendship” — has cooled now that both men are heads of state. Biden bristled in June when asked by a reporter if he would press his old friend to cooperate with a World Health Organization investigation into the coronavirus origins.

Xi, however, seemed interested in publicly reviving the warmth of the earlier days of their relationship, saying, “I am very happy to see my old friend."

Despite the tensions, there have been moments of progress in the U.S.-China relationship over the past months.

Last week, the two countries pledged at U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, to increase their cooperation and speed up action to rein in climate-damaging emissions.

The White House has said it views cooperation on climate change as something in China’s interest, something the two nations should cooperate on despite differences on other aspects of the relationship.

"None of this is a favor to either of our countries — what we do for one another — but it’s just responsible world leadership," Biden told Xi. “You’re a major world leader, and so is the United States.”

___

Madhani reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington, D.C., contributed.

On Biden's foreign policy: Columnist and author Max Boot .
This week, host Michael Morell talks with Boot about the top foreign policy challenges the Biden administration is likely to face.Download, rate and subscribe here: iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher.

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