Chinese President Xi Jinping warmly greeted his “old friend” President Biden during a virtual summit Monday night after Biden opened the talks by mentioning climate change, but not China’s lack of transparency on the origins of COVID-19.
“Although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting, I’m very happy to see my old friend,” the Communist leader, 68, told Biden, 78.
Biden and Xi spoke for 3.5 hours and covered more than a dozen major topics, the White House said.
The origins of the pandemic that’s killed more than 762,000 Americans apparently did not make the list.
A White House release said the men discussed trade, human rights, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” “health security,” “the climate crisis” and “global energy supplies.”
The readout didn’t mention the pandemic.
A Biden administration official who gave greater detail on the meeting told reporters on a background call that began well after midnight that the leaders had a “respectful and straightforward” discussion and “they didn’t just stick to the scripts.”
The official didn’t deny a report by the Chinese Communist Party-controlled news outlet CGTN that Biden said he opposes Taiwan independence. She said that’s a longstanding position of the US government under the “One China” policy.
She said Biden “was very clear” that he wants “peace and stability” between mainland China and Taiwan, she said.
The official said the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing didn’t come up and that there were no agreements during the summit.
“We did not expect a breakthrough. There were none to report,” she said.
Only the opening remarks between Biden and Xi were viewable by the public.
“Humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together,” Xi said through a translator in his introduction.
“China and the US need to increase communication and cooperation.” Biden kicked off the talks with a beaming smile toward Xi’s video stream in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room.
Biden frequently reminisces about his relationship with Xi while he was vice president from 2009-2017 and told his authoritarian counterpart, “we spent an awful lot of time talking to each other” and “maybe I should start more formally even though you and I have never been that formal with one another.”
Biden said to Xi, “you’re a major world leader and so is the United States.”
“It seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended — just simple, straightforward competition,” he said.
“It seems to me we need to establish some common sense guardrails. be clear and honest where we disagree and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change.”
Biden added, “If past is prologue, I’m sure that today we’ll be discussing those areas where we have concerns, from human rights to economics to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Biden didn’t mention the COVID-19 pandemic during his opening remarks.
US spy agencies in August assessed that it’s “plausible” the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The other leading theory is that the virus emerged naturally from animals, but China has refused to cooperate with an independent international investigation.
Biden rarely presses for COVID-19 transparency from China, but a written statement attributed to Biden in August said, “The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them. Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world. Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.”
Xi mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic in passing during his opening remarks, describing it as an area of potential cooperation with the US, along with global warming. He said the US and China should find “effective responses to global challenges such as climate change, which you have referenced, and the COVID pandemic.”
Neither man took questions from reporters. Biden has spoken twice privately on the phone with Xi since he took office — in February and again in September. But the virtual summit is the first such meeting and comes after Chinese diplomats used a March summit in Alaska to score propaganda points by accusing the US of hypocrisy on cyberattacks and human rights.
Biden convened the summit despite reports that his son Hunter Biden still owns a 10 percent stake in a Chinese investment firm that’s controlled by state-owned entities. The company, BHR Partners, was formed 12 days after Hunter Biden joined his father aboard Air Force Two for a 2013 trip to Beijing.
Biden said in December that members of his family would not hold any business role that conflicts with “or appears to be in conflict” with his job as president, but the White House has repeatedly said the first son is still working to “unwind” his Chinese holdings.
So far, Biden has kept many of former President Donald Trump’s policies toward China, including tariffs on Chinese goods and sanctions on Chinese officials for eliminating Hong Kong’s autonomy and for mistreating Uyghur Muslim minorities.
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