Biden, Xi virtual summit before year end

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The United States and China have agreed in principle for their presidents to hold a virtual meeting before the end of the year, after high-level talks aimed at improving communication between the two countries.

The closed-door meeting in the Swiss city of Zurich between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi was their first face-to-face encounter since an unusually public airing of grievances in Alaska in March.

US officials had suggested the meeting was a follow-on from President Joe Biden's September 9 call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, prior to which the world's top two economies appeared to have been locked in a stalemate.

The White House said Sullivan raised concerns about contentious issues such as China's actions in the South China Sea, as well as on human rights and Beijing's stances on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan.

Beijing and Washington said the talks, which lasted six hours, were constructive and candid.

"We do have out of today's conversation an agreement in principle to hold a virtual bilateral (summit) meeting before the end of the year," a US official told reporters.

Asked for further details, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "We're still working through what that would look like, when and of course the final details."

Early speculation had been that the two might meet in person at the G20 summit in Italy in October, but Xi has not left China since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year.

"Today's conversation, broadly speaking, was a more meaningful and substantive engagement than we've had to date below the leader level," the official said, adding Washington hoped it would be a "model for future encounters".

"What we are trying to achieve is a steady state between the United States and China where we are able to compete intensely but to manage that competition responsibly," the official said.

China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Yang told Sullivan confrontation would damage both countries and the world.

"The two sides agreed to take action ... to strengthen strategic communication, properly manage differences, avoid conflict and confrontation," the ministry statement said.

Biden's call with Xi in September ended a nearly seven-month gap in direct communication between the leaders, and the two discussed the need to ensure that their competition does not veer into conflict.

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