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Joe Biden will press Xi Jinping on the need to revive communications between the two powers’ militaries when the US and Chinese presidents hold a summit ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum next week.
The White House on Friday said Biden and Xi would meet in the San Francisco Bay area on Wednesday before they attend Apec. The two sides are trying to renew efforts to stabilise relations amid rising tensions over issues including Chinese military activity near Taiwan and US efforts to stop China from securing cutting-edge American technology.
The summit will be their second in-person meeting as leaders and comes one year after they met at the G20 in Bali, Indonesia. Xi has not been to the US since April 2017 when he met then-president Donald Trump in Florida. The Chinese leader is also expected to attend a dinner with US chief executives after meeting Biden.
US officials said the leaders would discuss a range of matters, including the prospect of reopening military communication channels that China shut last year after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.
The US has been vocal in raising concern about Chinese fighter jets flying too close to American spy planes and surveillance aircraft flown by US allies, including Canada, over the South China Sea.
“The president has been determined to take the necessary steps to restore what we believe are central communications between the US and China on the military side,” said one US official.
The official said Biden would raise concerns with Xi about “dangerous” and “provocative” Chinese military activity around Taiwan, which has soared since the US president took office nearly three years ago.
“The president has made those points consistently, and he will do so again next week in San Francisco,” the official said.
Officials stressed that the summit, which follows months of high-level engagements, did not mark a change in US policy towards China but a recognition that the powers needed effective channels of communication.
“Intense competition requires and demands intense diplomacy to manage tensions and to prevent competition from verging into conflict,” the US official said. “Diplomacy is how we clear up misperceptions, signal, communicate, avoid surprises and explain our competitive steps.”
Xie Feng, China’s ambassador to the US, said the two presidents would have “in-depth communication on issues of strategic, overarching and fundamental importance in shaping China-US relations and major issues concerning world peace and development”.
US-China relations are in their worst state since the countries normalised diplomatic ties in 1979. Washington is concerned about issues including the Chinese export of ingredients for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is now the leading killer of young Americans.
Beijing meanwhile is critical of US efforts to restrain its military modernisation through export controls designed to slow its progress in developing advanced chips for applications such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
When the two leaders met in Bali last November, they agreed on the need to stabilise relations to reduce the chances of rising competition between the rivals veering into military conflict.
But efforts to set a “floor” under the relationship were derailed when a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over the US in February.