US and Chinese officials meet in Malta ahead of possible Biden-Xi summit

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White House National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the latest effort to bolster US-China ties ahead of a meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November.

Sullivan and Wang met in Malta on Saturday and Sunday, the White House said. Four months after the previously unannounced meeting, the pair held a secret meeting in Vienna aimed at rekindling high-level diplomacy after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over North America before it was shot down by the US.

„This meeting is part of an ongoing effort to maintain open lines of communication and manage the relationship responsibly,” the White House said. “The two sides discussed the US-China bilateral relationship, global and regional security issues, Russia’s war against Ukraine, and key issues of cross-U.S.[Taiwan] Straits Issues among other topics.”

The White House and the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in separate statements that the officials held „honest, substantial and constructive” discussions.

The talks come as the US and China discuss a possible meeting between Biden and Xi if the Chinese leader attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November. The two heads of state met in person at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia last November.

At a briefing, a US official declined to discuss the possibility of a summit this year. But he said the talks in Malta were „constructive” and noted that Biden had said he hoped to meet Xi in the future.

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Experts are closely watching for signs that Xi may decide not to attend Apec after skipping the recent G20 summit in India. Xi went to the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – summit in South Africa last month, but unexpectedly did not deliver a planned speech at the forum, fueling speculation of a possible domestic crisis.

The Malta meeting comes at a time of high-profile turmoil in the Chinese government. Wang serves after Qin Gang, China’s top foreign policy official and foreign minister, was ousted without explanation in July. Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu also disappeared from public view. US officials told the Financial Times this week that Li had been investigated over the scandal and removed.

Wang did not explain what happened to Qin or Li, and Sullivan did not raise the issue during the two days of discussions, the U.S. official said.

China has not explained the Xi-appointed ouster of Qin or Li’s disappearance. Over the summer, Xi, who is also head of the Central Military Commission, fired two generals who ran the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, an elite command that oversees China’s nuclear arsenal and long-range missiles.

The US official said the two sides agreed to hold talks covering a range of areas, including Asia-Pacific political and security developments, maritime issues, arms control and policy planning. The Chinese Foreign Ministry statement did not mention arms control, an area Beijing has previously refused to include in bilateral discussions.

A US official said China had recently given „limited indications” that it was interested in reviving some of the closed military-to-military channels after US Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year.

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China said Wang insisted that the Taiwan issue was a „red line” that should not be crossed. The US official said Sullivan expressed concern about Chinese military activities, including flights across the demarcation line in the Taiwan Strait.

The FT reported last month that the two sides would develop new lines of communication to discuss Asia-Pacific and maritime issues following the visit of top Chinese official Yang Dao to Washington.

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

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