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US, Chinese Presidents Seek to Ease Tensions in Video Meeting

US President Joe Biden meets with China's President Xi Jinping over video conferencing from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, November 15, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
US and Chinese Presidents Seek to Ease Tensions in Video Meeting
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U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping by video conference on Tuesday. The discussion was meant to be an effort to reduce tensions between the sides.

The Zoom video conference lasted more than three hours.

The leaders appeared to be at ease. Xi greeted Biden as his “old friend.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the exchange was constructive, or useful.

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

However, both leaders held firm to their positions on issues that divide the two countries.

Xi warned that the U.S. and Taiwan are playing with fire over the self-governing island that China considers part of its territory.

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, Nov. 16, 2021.
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, Nov. 16, 2021.

An effort to lower tensions

The two leaders appeared to be aiming to ease tensions that had increased under former U.S. President Donald Trump.

“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 the meeting.

Xi returned Biden’s friendly words in his opening remarks. He said, “China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation.”

Wang Huiyao is president of the Center for China and Globalization, a research group in Beijing. He said the friendly tone sets an example for officials in both countries. He said the idea was to try to identify common ground rather than to blame each other.

Wang said, “I don’t expect this one summit to bring us back to the good old days, but certainly it stops the downward spiral.”

The Biden administration set low expectations for the meeting. It made no major announcements related to the exchange.

The U.S. did say the two leaders had an extended discussion on Taiwan. Tensions have heightened as China has sent a growing number of fighter jets toward the island. The U.S. and its allies have sailed warships through the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese statement on the meeting said Xi blamed Taiwan for seeking U.S. support to gain independence and some on the American side for using Taiwan to contain China.

“Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire. Whoever plays with fire will get burnt,” the statement said.

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

The Biden administration said the president repeated that the U.S. will observe the “One China” policy. The policy recognizes the mainland as the government of China but permits informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan.

The administration’s statement on the meeting said Biden added that the U.S. “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo” or to harm peace across the Taiwan Strait. The status quo describes the current situation.

It also said that Biden raised concerns about China’s human rights record. And it added that Biden wanted to “protect American workers and industries from (China’s) unfair trade and economic practices.”

The two also spoke about issues including North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.

Paul Haenle is a former U.S. official and China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said the meeting was a chance “to set the terms of what is a new era in U.S.-China relations.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and several aides joined the president for the video conference at the White House. Xi was in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing with a number of advisers.

Although there have been tensions between the countries, reports say there have been points of agreement in recent months.

Last week at the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, the two countries promised to speed up action to limit the release of gasses linked to climate change.

The Biden administration has said it considers climate change to be an issue that the two nations should cooperate on.

“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.

I'm Mario Ritter Jr.

Ken Moritsugu and Aamer Madhani reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

veer –v. to change direction quickly or suddenly

intend –v. to plan or want to do (something) : to have (something) in your mind as a purpose or goal

tone --n. a quality, feeling, or attitude expressed by the words that someone uses in speaking or writing

spiral –n. a situation in which something continuously increases, decreases, or gets worse — usually singular

unilateral --adj. involving only one country or group

era –n. a period of time linked to a person, quality or event

summit –n. a high-level meeting

common ground –n. an area of agreement; issues that can be agreed upon

play with fire –expression to do something risky or dangerous