Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Washington/Beijing  — US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed at a virtual meeting to look into the possibility of arms control talks, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday.

Biden and Xi agreed to “look to begin to carry forward discussion on strategic stability”, Sullivan said in a reference to US concerns about China’s nuclear and missile build-up.

“You will see at multiple levels an intensification of the engagement to ensure that there are guardrails around this competition so that it doesn't veer off into conflict,” Sullivan said in a Brookings Institution webinar.

Sullivan did not elaborate on what form the discussions on strategic stability could take, but went on to say: “That is not the same as what we have in the Russian context with the formal strategic stability dialogue. That is far more mature, has a much deeper history to it. There's less maturity to that in the US-China relationship, but the two leaders did discuss these issues and it is now incumbent on us to think about the most productive way to carry it forward.”

Washington has repeatedly urged China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty.

Beijing says the arsenals of the US and Russia dwarf its own. It says it is ready to conduct bilateral dialogues on strategic security “on the basis of equality and mutual respect”.

On November 3, the Pentagon sharply increased its estimate of China’s projected nuclear weapons arsenal over the coming years, saying Beijing could have 700 warheads by 2027 and possibly 1,000 by 2030.

Among other global concerns were reports of two hypersonic weapons tests reported  to have been conducted by China in August. China disputed the reports, saying  it had tested a reusable space vehicle. 

Also in early November, President Vladimir Putin said tests of Russia’s Zircon hypersonic cruise missile are nearing completion and deliveries to the navy would begin in 2022.

It was the two leaders' most in-depth exchange since Biden took office in January.

Though they spoke for about three-and-a-half hours, the two leaders appeared to do little to narrow differences that have raised fears of an eventual conflict between the two superpowers.

The US had envisioned the meeting putting stability into a relationship increasingly troubled over a litany of issues, including what Washington views as Beijing's aggressive actions towards self-ruled Taiwan.

Sullivan said Xi and Biden discussed a broad range of global economic issues, including how the US and China can work together to ensure world energy supply and price volatility do not imperil the global economic recovery.

“The two presidents tasked their teams to co-ordinate on this issue expeditiously,” he said.

In the meeting Biden pressed his Chinese counterpart on human rights and Xi warned that China would respond to provocations on Taiwan.

A senior US official said in a briefing after the meeting that the US aim was not to ease tensions, nor necessarily was that the result, and there were no breakthroughs to report.

China's state media cited unnamed Chinese foreign ministry sources as saying the two sides would ease restrictions on access for journalists from each other's countries.

The China Daily newspaper said a consensus on journalist visas, among other points, was reached before the virtual meeting.

Officials at the White House and state department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.

Beijing accused Washington of a “political crackdown” on Chinese journalists after it slashed the number of Chinese nationals allowed to work at US offices of major Chinese state-owned media and limited their authorised stay to 90 days, with an option to extend.

China, already accused internationally of not respecting press freedoms, then expelled US journalists at several US newspapers and introduced new visa restrictions on some US media companies.

Reuters 

Susan Shirk, research professor and chair of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, discusses the virtual meeting between the leaders of the world's most powerful nations.

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