Biden's national security adviser holds two days of talks in Malta with China's foreign minister


President Joe Biden's national security adviser met with China's foreign minister over the past two days on the Mediterranean island nation of Malta in an effort that the White House said Sunday was intended to “responsibly maintain the relationship” at a time of strained ties and mutual suspicion between the rival powers.

The White House said in a statement that Jake Sullivan and Chinese envoy Wang Yi had “candid, substantive and constructive discussions” as the world's two largest economies try “to maintain open lines of communication.” Sullivan and Wang last met in May in Vienna f or talks.

Washington and Beijing see themselves as competitors despite an extensive trade partnership. President Joe Biden recently spoke with Chinese Premier Li Qiang while in India at the Group of 20 summit and told reporters afterward that they had talked about “stability” and “it wasn't confrontational at all.”

Biden has worked to strengthen relations with Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam and others to counterbalance China's influence across the Pacific Region. Yet Biden said last Sunday at a news conference in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi that those alliances are not about a “cold war” with China.

“It’s not about containing China,” he said. “It’s about having a stable base" for global economic growth.

Yet the relationship is full of competing pressures.

The Biden administration shot down a Chinese spy balloon that traversed the continental U.S. earlier this year. The Chinese government hacked the emails of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The U.S. government has restricted the exporting of advanced computer chips to China. And after Chinese President Xi Jinping centralized his power, the Chinese economy has not rebounded as expected after ending its pandemic lockdowns.

The White House said Sullivan and Wang discussed the relationship between the two countries, global and regional security issues, Russia's war in Ukraine and the Taiwan Strait.

“The United States noted the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. The two sides committed to maintain this strategic channel of communication and to pursue additional high-level engagement and consultations in key areas between the United States and the People’s Republic of China in the coming months,” according to the statement.

The Sullivan-Wang meeting comes as Biden and other world leaders are set to take part in the annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly. Biden is scheduled to address the world body on Tuesday and meet with leaders of five Central Asian nations -- Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Xi has stepped up his own courting of those countries. During his own summit in May with the Central Asian leaders, Xi promised to build more railway and other trade links with the region and proposed jointly developing oil and gas sources

Sullivan told reporters last week that Biden’s meeting with those leaders should not be seen as an effort to counterbalance Chinese influence in the region.

“Look, this summit is not against any country,” Sullivan said, previewing the meeting. “It is for a positive agenda that we want to work through with these countries.”

Xi did not attend last weekend's G20 summit in New Delhi and is not expected to be in New York for the General Assembly. Biden has said he hopes to soon meet with Xi. The two leaders have not spoken since the they met for talks last November in Indonesia, according to the White House.

Sullivan also met with Malta's prime minister, Robert Abela. They talked about the Mediterranean region's role in helping to provide “global peace and security,” according to a statement by the Maltese government.


Madhani reported from Washington.


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