WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday night, in a conversation that the White House said did not result in any breakthroughs in the U.S.-China relationship but took a step toward managing a relationship that has been increasingly defined by hostility.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House said Biden raised concerns over Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement, China’s abuse of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, as well as human rights more broadly.
The two leaders also discussed Taiwan at length. The White House said that Biden underscored the U.S. commitment to the “one China” policy but was direct about his concerns that Beijing’s actions toward the self-ruling democracy were increasingly at odds with the status quo.
According to Chinese state media, Xi warned Biden that the U.S. was “playing with fire” on Taiwan and that while Beijing sought peaceful “reunification” with the island, it was prepared to take “resolute measures” against Taiwan independence.
In a call with reporters, a senior administration official described the meeting as “respectful,” “straight-forward” and “open.”
“The meeting itself was really about the two leaders discussing ways to manage the competition between the United States and China responsibly and ways to establish guardrails for that competition,” the official said. “That was a theme throughout the conversation.”
The Global Times, a state-backed Chinese tabloid, said the meeting “injected certainty” into the U.S.-China relationship and showed that while the two countries cannot avoid competition, there are also many areas for cooperation.
Biden had spoken with Xi over the phone twice since taking office, but Monday was the first time the two leaders met in a more formal setting. The White House had hoped to hold the meeting in person, but Xi has not left China since January 2020, when the coronavirus first began to spread.
“Meeting virtually is not quite the same as meeting in person, but it certainly was very different than just a phone call,” the senior Biden administration official said. “The two leaders really did have a substantial back and forth and an ability to interact with one another.”
The U.S.-China relationship has grown increasingly tense over the past several years. The two countries launched a trade war under the Trump administration and Biden took a tough stance on China during his campaign for president, calling Xi a “thug.” The Chinese leader has repeatedly celebrated what he argues is America’s waning power, saying “the East is rising and the West is declining.”
Biden and Xi, who spoke Monday through interpreters, shared conciliatory words as they sat down for their three-and-a-half-hour video conference.
“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 said in opening remarks, seated at a table in the Roosevelt Room.