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

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White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with 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 two men held a secret meeting in Vienna that was intended to revive high-level diplomacy that stalled after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over North America before being shot down by the United States.

“This meeting was part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and manage the relationship responsibly,” the White House said. The two sides discussed the main issues in bilateral relations between the United States and China, global and regional security issues, the Russian war against Ukraine, and common issues between the two countries.[Taiwan] Strait issues, among other topics.”

The White House and China’s Foreign Ministry said in separate statements that the officials had “candid, objective and constructive” discussions.

The talks come as the United States 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 held their only personal meeting as leaders at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last November.

At a press conference, an American official refused to discuss the possibility of holding a summit this year. But she said the talks in Malta were “constructive” and noted that Biden said he hoped to meet Xi in the near future.

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Experts are closely monitoring signs that Xi will decide not to attend the APEC summit, after missing the recent G20 summit in India. Xi went to a summit of the BRICS group – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in South Africa last month, but unexpectedly did not deliver a planned speech at the forum, raising speculation about a possible internal crisis.

The Malta meeting was held during a period of turmoil at the head of the Chinese government. Wang serves as China’s top foreign policy official and foreign minister after Chen Gang was removed from his post without explanation in July. Chinese Defense Minister Li Changfu also disappeared from sight. US officials this week told the Financial Times that Lee is being investigated for corruption and has been removed.

The US official said Wang did not explain what happened to Chen or Li, and Sullivan did not raise the issue during the two-day discussions.

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

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

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China has also recently given “limited indications” that it is interested in reviving some of the military channels it closed after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, the US official said.

China said Wang stressed that the Taiwan issue is a “red line” that should not be crossed. The US official said Sullivan raised concerns about Chinese military activity, including flights across the middle line in the Taiwan Strait that previously served as a buffer zone.

The Financial Times reported last month that the two sides would establish new lines of communication to discuss Asia-Pacific and maritime issues after Yang Tao, a senior Chinese official, visited Washington.

Wang is expected to travel to Washington next month, in what will be the highest-profile visit by a Chinese official to the US capital since before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

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