April 18, 2024

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US and Chinese officials meet in Malta to discuss Ukraine and other flashpoints

US and Chinese officials meet in Malta to discuss Ukraine and other flashpoints

The White House announced on Sunday that its National Security Advisor Met over the weekend With China’s top diplomat in Malta, as part of efforts to keep communications open between the two countries at a time when political purges are ravaging Beijing’s elite circles.

Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, met with Wang Yi, the Communist Party’s top foreign policy official and Chinese foreign minister, on Saturday and Sunday, the White House said in a summary of the talks. The summary said they talked about relations between the two countries, the Russian war in Ukraine, and tensions between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan, a de facto independent democratic island that the party aims to rule and which is an important partner for the United States.

A senior White House official told reporters in a conference call on Sunday that Sullivan reiterated US concerns about China’s recent military actions around Taiwan and other coercive activities, and said any disputes or conflicts should be resolved peacefully.

The US official also said that Sullivan stressed that China should not try to help Russia in its war on Ukraine. The essence of these concerns relates to the US intelligence assessment that China has been considering sending weapons to President Vladimir Putin for his war since the winter. US officials announced these findings in late February, and confronted Chinese officials about them at the time. The White House official said China has so far refrained from sending any major weapons.

A summary released by the Chinese government on Sunday said Mr. Wang stressed that the Taiwan issue was a “red line” for China, language consistent with a long-standing view among Chinese leaders. The summary also said that the two officials discussed issues related to the Asia-Pacific region, the Korean Peninsula and Ukraine, as well as “personnel exchange” measures between the two countries.

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Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Wang agreed that the two governments “will continue further high-level engagement and consultations in key areas,” the White House summary said. In recent weeks, US officials said they were trying to arrange a meeting between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of an international summit in San Francisco in November. However, recent developments, especially within the Chinese government and party, have cast doubt on whether that will happen.

Questions are swirling about the recent purges within the upper levels of the Chinese government and the Communist Party. US officials decided last week that General Li Changfu, China’s defense minister, who has not made any public appearances or statements since late August, had been placed under investigation for corruption. In July, Mr. Xi abruptly ousted Foreign Minister Chen Gang and announced that Mr. Wang, who had held the post before being elevated to the top foreign policy post within the party, would take over for Mr. Chen.

US intelligence agencies are working hard to try to extract insights into current conflicts within the leadership ranks, as part of the broader shadow espionage war and intelligence gathering campaign between the US and China.

Mr. Biden has made an effort since the spy balloon crisis early this year to try to engage his top officials in high-level diplomacy with their counterparts in Beijing to stabilize relations, however minor.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Beijing in June for two days of meetings, mainly separate talks with Mr. Xi, Mr. Wang and Mr. Chen, after a flight was canceled during the balloon incident in early February. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen returned to Beijing soon after and made headlines by dining at a popular restaurant in the Sanlitun area. Which serves exotic mushroom dishes. She was followed by John Kerry, Special Envoy for Climate, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

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When Mr. Blinken traveled to Beijing, aides said the summer trips were part of a series of high-level visits by officials from both countries, the world’s two largest economies. But in recent weeks, US officials have said they do not expect Chinese ministerial-level officials to come to Washington anytime soon. Instead, they have focused on trying to set up a possible meeting in the fall between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi, which would take place on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit in November.

However, US officials say this is uncertain, and Chinese officials often do not give final approval for an important diplomatic meeting until the last minute, to try to put pressure on the other country.

Mr. Xi faces domestic political issues as China’s economy slows, raising doubts about the country’s continued growth prospects. At the same time, a growing number of Chinese citizens in elite circles are complaining about the country’s direction, criticizing Mr. Xi’s recent policies, as well as his continued promotion of the party’s ideology and boasting about his personal place in the party’s history.