Key US-China Officials Convene in Malta: Paving Way for Potential Biden-Xi Summit

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White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in the latest effort to stabilize US-China relations ahead of a possible meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November.

The White House said Sullivan and Wang met in Malta on Saturday and Sunday. The previously unannounced meeting comes four months after the pair held a secret meeting in Vienna that aimed to revive high-level diplomacy which had stalled due to a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over North America and being shot down by the US.

“This meeting was part of our ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage the relationship,” stated the White House. “During the meeting, the two sides discussed various topics, including key issues in the US-China bilateral relationship, global and regional security issues, Russia’s war against Ukraine, and cross-[Taiwan] Strait issues.”

Separate statements from the White House and Chinese foreign ministry described the talks as “candid, substantive, and constructive.”

These discussions take place as US and China explore the possibility of a meeting between Biden and Xi at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco this November. Last November, the two leaders met in person at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

A US official declined to comment on the likelihood of a summit this year, but expressed that the talks in Malta were “constructive” and noted Biden’s desire to meet Xi in the near future.

Observers are paying close attention to whether Xi will attend Apec, especially since he skipped the recent G20 summit in India, and unexpectedly did not give a planned speech at the Brics summit in South Africa last month. This has fueled speculation about a possible domestic crisis.

The Malta meeting occurred during a period of upheaval within China’s government. Wang currently serves as China’s top foreign policy official as well as its foreign minister following the unexplained removal of Qin Gang in July. Chinese defense minister Li Shangfu has also disappeared from public view and is reportedly being investigated for corruption and has been removed.

Both sides have agreed to hold talks covering various areas, including political and security developments in the Asia-Pacific, maritime issues, arms control, and policy planning. The Chinese foreign ministry statement did not explicitly mention arms control, an area Beijing has previously been hesitant to discuss in bilateral negotiations.

The US official revealed that China has shown limited interest in reopening some of the military-to-military channels that were closed after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year. During the discussions, Sullivan raised concerns about Chinese military activity, including flights in the Taiwan Strait that violate the previously respected median line.

Last month, it was reported that the two countries would establish new communication channels to address Asia-Pacific and maritime issues after a visit to Washington by top Chinese official, Yang Tao.

Wang is expected to travel to Washington next month, marking the highest-level visit to the US capital by a Chinese official since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.


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