U.S. President Joe Biden met China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday, holding an hour of talks that the White House characterized as a “good opportunity” in keeping lines of communication open between the two geopolitical rivals.
Wang earlier held a second day of meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as the two countries seek to manage differences while laying groundwork for an expected summit between Biden and his counterpart Xi Jinping in November.
Biden still hopes to see Xi in the near future, White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, but could not say whether an agreement was struck for the two presidents to meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next month in San Francisco.
China has yet to announce whether Xi will attend.
“The president has said that he fully expects to meet again with President Xi. These are two guys that have a long-standing relationship and we’re confident that that’s going to happen,” Kirby said.
“In his view, this was a positive development and a good opportunity to keep the conversation going,” Kirby said of Biden’s meeting with Wang, which Blinken and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also attended.
Wang arrived at the State Department late on Thursday – the first visit by a Chinese foreign minister to Washington during the Biden administration – and held a meeting with Blinken followed by a dinner. Sullivan was due to meet Wang separately on Friday afternoon.
On Thursday, Wang told Blinken that the two countries have disagreements and need “in-depth” and “comprehensive” dialogue to reduce misunderstandings and stabilize ties. “Not only should we resume dialogue, the dialogue should be in-depth and comprehensive,” Wang said.
Wang’s three-day visit follows a flurry of bilateral diplomatic engagements in recent months, largely at U.S. request, aimed at salvaging what were rapidly deteriorating ties early in the year following the U.S. downing of an alleged Chinese spy balloon.
The U.S. sought to prevent relations, also severely strained by intense economic competition and disagreements on a host of issues – including trade, Taiwan, human rights and the South China Sea – from veering into conflict.
But some in Washington have questioned whether a slate of mostly unreciprocated U.S. Cabinet-level official visits to Beijing over the past six months, including by Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, played into Beijing’s hand.
The trips by Yellen and Raimondo led to new bilateral economic and commercial working groups, which critics worry will only pull U.S. focus away from – and possibly delay – sanctions, export controls and broader measures intended to enhance U.S. competition with China.
The Israel-Hamas conflict has added a fresh dynamic to the testy relationship between the superpowers, and Washington is hoping Beijing can use its influence with Iran to prevent an escalation into a wider war in the Middle East.
Kirby said events in the Middle East were on the agenda in talks with Wang. He said the U.S. also raised concerns about the South China Sea, disputed waters where China and the Philippines have had several high-profile confrontations. Beijing says Washington has no right to get involved.
However, while both Beijing and Washington have spoken about looking for areas where they can work together, and Xi said on Wednesday that China was willing to cooperate on global challenges, experts expect minimal progress.
“Wang Yi’s long visit to Washington and other atmospherics all point to the high likelihood that Xi will attend APEC and meet with Biden,” said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Kennedy said that could yield near-term improvements, such as increased journalist visas and commercial flights between the two countries, but that agreement over stemming fentanyl chemicals flowing from China or the resumption of military dialogue would be more difficult.