WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden told reporters on Tuesday (Sept 14) it was not true that China’s Xi Jinping turned him down when he proposed a face-to-face summit during a call last week.
Mr Biden proposed a first face-to-face summit with Mr Xi in a call last week, but failed to secure an agreement, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday, an account later denied by the White House.
“This is not an accurate portrayal of the call. Period,” Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a statement.
The Financial Times cited multiple people briefed on last Thursday’s 90-minute call as saying Mr Xi did not take Mr Biden up on the offer and instead insisted that Washington adopt a less strident tone toward Beijing.
A source who was among those briefed on the call confirmed the report was accurate.
“Xi apparently intimated that the tone and atmosphere of the relationship needed to be improved first,” the source told Reuters.
China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond when asked to comment.
The Financial Times quoted one of its sources as saying Mr Biden had floated the summit as one of several possibilities for follow-on engagement with Mr Xi, and he had not expected an immediate response.
It cited one US official as saying that while Mr Xi did not engage with the idea of a summit, the White House believed that was partly due to concerns about Covid-19.
The G20 summit in Italy in October has been talked about as a possible venue for a face-to-face meeting, but Mr Xi has not left China since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year.
In his statement, Mr Sullivan added: “As we’ve said, the Presidents discussed the importance of being able to have private discussions between the two leaders, and we’re going to respect that.”
The call between Mr Biden and Mr Xi was their first in seven months and they discussed the need to ensure that competition between the world’s two largest economies does not veer into conflict.
A US official briefing before the conversation called it a test of whether direct top-level engagement could end what had become a stalemate in ties, which are at the worst level in decades.
The White House said afterward it was intended to keep channels of communication open, but it has announced no plans for follow-on engagements.
Chinese state media said Mr Xi had told Mr Biden that US policy on China imposed “serious difficulties” on relations, but added that both sides agreed to maintain frequent contact and ask working-level teams to step up communications.