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U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to hold a virtual summit on Monday, sources say.Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are expected to hold a virtual summit on Monday, sources said, amid tensions over trade, human rights and military activities.

Washington and Beijing have been sparring on issues from the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic to China’s expanding nuclear arsenal. U.S. officials believe direct engagement with Xi is the best way to prevent the relationship between the world’s two biggest economies from spiralling toward conflict.

The White House declined to comment on Thursday, and Chinese officials had no immediate comment.

Separately, Biden is expected to address the Asia Pacific Economic Conference leaders’ summit in an online appearance on Friday morning.

Xi is likely to invite Biden to attend the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, CNBC reported on Thursday, citing two people familiar with the matter.

Such a request could put the U.S president in an uncomfortable spot as he presses China on human rights. Biden is unlikely to go to Beijing for any kind of meeting; the U.S. president did not attend the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, a key American ally.

Biden and Xi last spoke on Sept. 9, a 90-minute conversation that a senior U.S. official said focused on economic issues, climate change and COVID-19.

Biden has been eager to hold face-to-face talks with Xi to try to reduce tensions with Beijing over Taiwan and a host of other issues.

U.S. officials had wanted Biden to meet Xi on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Rome two weeks ago, but Xi has not travelled outside of China since the pandemic broke out 21 months ago. On Wednesday, the two countries unveiled a framework deal at the U.N. climate conference in Scotland aimed at boosting co-operation to tackle climate change.

The latest Biden-Xi virtual meeting was agreed to in principle last month during talks in Zurich between U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi. The White House said Sullivan raised concerns about Chinese actions in the South China Sea, as well as human rights and Beijing’s stances on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan.

A senior administration official said there was nothing to announce yet. “We have an agreement in principle to have a virtual bilateral meeting before the end of the year. Working-level discussions are under way to confirm details,” the official said.

The White House has characterized the upcoming meeting as part of ongoing U.S. efforts to “responsibly manage” competition between the two countries.

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