Biden, Xi lower heat in virtual meeting

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US President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping's more than three-hour virtual meeting has concluded with the leaders of the superpowers agreeing they need to tread carefully as their nations find themselves in an increasingly fraught competition.

Facing domestic pressures, Biden and Xi seemed determined to lower the temperature in what for both sides is their most significant - and often turbulent - relationship on the global stage.

"As I've said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended," Biden told Xi at the start of their virtual meeting on Monday.

"Just simple, straightforward competition."

Xi greeted the US president as his "old friend" and echoed Biden's cordial tone in his own opening remarks, saying, "China and the United States need to increase communication and co-operation".

The relationship has had no shortage of tension since Biden strode into the White House in January and quickly criticised Beijing for human rights abuses against Uyghurs in northwest China, suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong, military aggression against the self-ruled island of Taiwan and more.

Xi's deputies, meanwhile, have lashed out against the Biden White House for interfering in what they see as internal Chinese matters.

The White House in a statement said Biden again raised concerns about China's human rights practices.

The two also spoke about key regional challenges, including North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.

"Right now, both China and the United States are at critical stages of development, and humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together," Xi said.

Chinese officials said in advance Taiwan would be their top issue for the talks.

Tensions have heightened as the Chinese military has dispatched an increasing number of fighter jets near the self-ruled island, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

"The Taiwan issue concerns China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as China's core interest," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday.

"It is the most important and sensitive issue in China-US relations."

The White House said Biden will abide by the longstanding US 'One China' policy, which recognises Beijing but allows informal relations and defence ties with Taipei.

The public warmth - Xi referred to Biden as his "old friend" when the then-vice president visited China in 2013, while Biden spoke of their "friendship" - has cooled now both men are head of state.

Biden bristled in June when asked by a reporter if he would press his old friend to co-operate with a World Health Organization investigation into the coronavirus origins.

"Let's get something straight: We know each other well; we're not old friends," Biden said. "It's just pure business."

Xi, however, seemed interested in publicly reviving the warmth of the earlier days of their relationship, saying, "I am very happy to see my old friend".

The first nine months of the Biden administration have been marked by the two sides trading recriminations and by unproductive exchanges between the presidents' top advisers. But there are signs of thawing.

Last week, the US and China pledged at UN climate talks in Glasgow to increase co-operation and speed up action to rein in climate-damaging emissions.

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