In a bid to stabilize troubled relations between the world’s two largest economies, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan held extensive talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Malta over the weekend. Both sides described the discussions as “candid, substantive, and constructive.”
These meetings, held on September 16-17, marked a significant step toward thawing the strained relationship between Beijing and Washington. The dialogue provided a platform for discussing a range of critical issues, including military communications, economic relations, and regional affairs.
One notable development from the talks is the possibility of restoring severed military communications between the two countries. While the process is still in its early stages, there are some “limited” indications of progress, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The meeting between Sullivan and Wang is part of a broader series of high-level discussions between U.S. and Chinese officials. These discussions aim to lay the groundwork for a potential meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year.
The talks occurred against the backdrop of significant developments within the Chinese government, including the recent disappearance of Defense Minister Li Shangfu and economic concerns in the country. These factors have raised concerns among foreign nations.
The Malta talks spanned approximately 12 hours over two days and built upon Sullivan and Wang’s previous meeting in Vienna in May. Both sides agreed to maintain high-level exchanges and engage in bilateral consultations on various regional and global issues, including those related to the Asia-Pacific region, maritime affairs, and foreign policy.
The United States expressed its readiness to collaborate with China on various fronts, including counter-narcotics efforts, artificial intelligence, and climate change. However, the U.S. also raised concerns about unspecified Chinese support for Russia and recent military actions near Taiwan.
Foreign Minister Wang emphasized that the Taiwan issue remains a significant red line in Sino-U.S. relations, asserting China’s claim over the self-ruled island.
Wang also highlighted China’s determination to continue its development, asserting that it cannot be stopped, and reaffirmed the Chinese people’s legitimate right to development.
The U.S. emphasized its desire for healthy competition with China based on fair rules, but China contended that the U.S. has engaged in efforts to suppress and contain its growth.
Regarding cross-military communications, there have been some initial signs that Beijing is willing to re-establish these channels, which were severed after former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022.
In their respective statements, both sides indicated a commitment to maintaining the channel of communication and pursuing further high-level engagement in key areas in the coming months.
President Biden and President Xi may have an opportunity to meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November, a prospect that both nations have been considering amid ongoing tensions.
This meeting follows several high-profile visits by U.S. officials to China this year, aimed at improving relations and ensuring continued communication between the two nations. The talks between Biden and Xi in 2022 were the most recent meeting between the two leaders.