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The 90-minute phone call between United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on September 10 was described as “frank and familiar” by media on both sides but no agreement was made during the dialogue.

A commentary written by a CCTV columnist, who has recently interviewed a Chinese academic, said Biden took the initiative to call Xi because his popularity had been hit by the rising number of Covid-19 infections in the US, the destruction caused by the tropical storm Ida in Louisiana and the chaotic situation at Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, foreign media said the Biden administration was planning to pressure Beijing on trade by starting a new investigation into Chinese subsidies and their damage to the US economy and by imposing more tariffs on Chinese imports. The White House also plans to change the name of the United States’ representative office in Washington from the “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO)” to the “Taiwan Representative Office.”

It was the second phone call between Xi and Biden, the previous one having been held in February. Biden administration officials have told media that they were unable to hold substantive conversations in previous meetings with lower-level Chinese officials, who were “playing for the press” and only attempting to push propaganda. In contrast, they described the tone of the latest Xi-Biden call as “respectful” and “frank and familiar.”

An account by the Xinhua News Agency published on Friday morning said Xi and Biden had candid, in-depth and extensive strategic communication and exchanges on China-US relations and relevant issues of mutual interest.

Noting that China and the United States are respectively the biggest developing country and the biggest developed country, Xi pointed out that whether they can handle their relationship well bears on the future of the world, and it is “a question of the century” to which the two countries must provide a good answer.

Xi cited a passage from a Chinese poem written by Lu You (1125-1209) during the Southern Song Dynasty, saying, “When you walk to a place in the mountains and water and wonder if there is no way to get out, you suddenly find another village under the shade of willows, glittering and shining with blossoms.”

Poet Lu You. Photo: min.news

Xi said the relevant departments of the two countries would continue their engagement and dialogue to advance coordination and cooperation on climate change, Covid-19 response and economic recovery, as well as on major international and regional issues, on the basis of respecting each other’s core concerns and properly managing differences.

In the afternoon on the same day, a commentary, written by a columnist who used the pen name “Yuyuan Tantian,” was published by CCTV. The Weibo account of “Yuyuan Tantian,” set up in March 2019, has released many exclusive news items and pictures related to previous US-China closed-door meetings. According to the self-description, “Yuyuan Tantian” is a woman, an “experienced political and economic news reporter” who has a PhD in Economics. CCTV has recently admitted that the account belongs to them.

“Yuyuan Tantian” said China would remain undecided about whether the United States really wanted to cooperate or had some other thoughts. She said Biden had in early this year showed his sincerity to China but it was not matched with his actions.

Citing the comments of Wu Xinbo, a professor and director at the Center for American Studies of Fudan University, the columnist said the US had made a major strategic misjudgment against China as it regarded China as its main strategic competitor and felt that China was trying to weaken the leadership position of the US and dominate the international order. She accused the US of having imposed new sanctions against China over Hong Kong issues shortly before the Alaska meeting on March 18.

She said that during a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Tianjin on July 26, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed “three bottom lines and two lists” about China-US relations, urging the US to follow in order to prevent the bilateral ties from further deteriorating.

According to the three bottom lines, the US must not challenge, slander or even attempt to subvert the path and system of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” It must not attempt to obstruct or interrupt China’s development process or infringe upon the country’s state sovereignty or territorial integrity. That demand refers to issues surrounding Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The two lists refer to China’s urging that the US end all its sanctions against Chinese officials and their families, remove visa bans affectimng Chinese students and stop the anti-China sentiment in the US.

Wu said that since the US faced setbacks in Afghanistan, was recording high numbers of covid-19 infections and had been hit by tropical storm Ida, Biden’s popularity had declined to the lowest level this year. Wu said China was now on the higher ground while the US had changed its tone “from arrogance to humility” and had become more pragmatic.

He added that China would continue its effort on climate change matters but only for fulfilling the Paris Agreement, not the orders from the US.

“Yuyuan Tantian” said if the US treated climate change as an “oasis” of the China-US relations but treated all other topics as “deserts,” such an oasis would become desertified one day. She said US-China cooperation on climate change could not be singled out from all other matters related to the relations of the two countries.

She said Biden’s request for a call with Xi had released a sign that the US wanted to take the initiative to communicate and cooperate with China. Besides, she said it was worth noting that Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen was reportedly considering visiting China within months.

She concluded that China had already given an answer to “the question of the century” and would wait to see how the US would answer. She said if the US really wanted to cooperate, it had to “throw off its airs” and open a dialogue with China.

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