Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden. Photos: AFP / Nicilas Asfouri and Nicholas Kamm

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to hold a virtual meeting as early as next week to discuss topics ranging from bilateral trade relations to rising tremors around Taiwan. It’s not clear to most observers, however, if the call will serve to aggravate or alleviate tensions.

Significantly, the meeting will be held after the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which ends this Thursday and is expected to agree to give General Secretary Xi a third five-year term as president.

Preparations for the plenary prevented Xi from attending the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference, or COP26 summit, in Glasgow, United Kingdom this month. On November 2, Biden criticized China as well as Russia for their lack of participation in the summit.

If the call goes through, the two leaders will have plenty to discuss. Since last month, Chinese state media has started to promote the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing in February 2022. Calls for a boycott of the Games over China’s human rights record are gathering resonance in various Western nations.

Tensions in the Taiwan Strait, meanwhile, spiked this week after a delegation of US Congress members arrived in Taipei on Tuesday on an unannounced visit aboard a US Navy aircraft. The surprise visit was slammed by officials at the Chinese Ministry of Defense and the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office.

On September 10, Xi and Biden held a 90-minute phone call and reportedly agreed that China and the US should resume dialogue in the spirit of equality and mutual respect. The White House said the phone call was part of the US’s ongoing efforts to responsibly manage US-China competition in various realms.

Earlier high-level diplomatic exchanges have ended in acrimony. Top US and Chinese diplomats openly rebuked each other at a face-to-face meeting in Alaska in March. US officials said at the time they could not discuss matters with their Chinese counterparts, who adopted “wolf warrior” attitudes, while Chinese officials complained US officials spoke down to them.

After the Xi-Biden phone call in September, Yang Jiechi, director of the Office of the CPC Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for six hours in Zurich, Switzerland. They reportedly discussed a possible virtual meeting between Xi and Biden for later this year.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R), joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R), speaks while facing Yang Jiechi (2nd L), director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, and Wang Yi (L), China’s Foreign Minister at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18, 2021. Photo: AFP / Frederic J Brown / Pool

Later, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He held a virtual meeting with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on October 9 and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on October 26. State media said the Liu-Yellen meeting, which reportedly entailed deeper and more concrete discussions, was more pragmatic than the Liu-Tai one.

On Tuesday, Chinese media reports acknowledged a virtual Xi-Biden meeting would be held as soon as next week but that so far no date had been fixed.

On the same day, Xi told a group of US former officials and businessmen in a letter that China was ready to work with the US to address regional and international issues as well as global challenges on the condition of “mutual respect.”

“Right now, China-US relations are at a critical historical juncture,” Xi said. “Both countries will gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only right choice.”

The letter was read in English by China’s ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, during the annual gala dinner of the National Committee on US-China Relations in New York on November 9.

Xi’s conciliatory message to the US business community coincided with the landing of a US Navy Air Logistics Office plane carrying US congressmen at Taipei Songshan Airport. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said in a statement that the US lawmakers’ relevant itinerary was coordinated with the American Institute in Taiwan, the US’ de facto embassy on the island.

MOFA said it was providing administrative assistance to the delegation and coordinating with the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on relevant epidemic prevention measures.

In Beijing, officials of China’s Ministry of Defense and State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, criticized the Taiwanese administration and the US congressmen for the incident.

Beijing strongly opposes any official and military ties between the US and Taiwan, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a media briefing on Wednesday.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was doomed to failure if it relied on the US to seek Taiwan independence, Zhu said, adding that US lawmakers should not send wrong signals to the island’s separatists.

The fact that the People’s Liberation Army sent fighter jets to fly over Taiwan’s southwest air defense identification zone more than 700 times was a result of the DPP and Taiwan independence proponents publicly promoting the “two-state” theory, Zhu said. Military tensions in the Taiwan Strait would not decrease if Taiwan independence proponents continued to stir trouble, she said.

Military helicopters carrying large Taiwan flags do flyby rehearsals on October 5 ahead of National Day celebrations amid escalating tensions between Taipei and Beijing. Photo: AFP / Ceng Shou Yi / NurPhoto

She said mainland China was willing to achieve unification with Taiwan peacefully. Zhu said after unification the fortunes created by Taiwanese people would be used to improve people’s livelihoods instead of buying weapons and international friendships.

Tan Kefei, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense, said the US had to stop their provocative actions in the Taiwan Strait, which he said interfered in China’s internal affairs and undermined China’s sovereignty.

A few hours after the landing of the US warplane in Taipei, the Eastern Theater Command of the PLA issued a statement that it had organized a patrol mission in the Taiwan Strait.

On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a video speech during the Symposium on Global Maritime Cooperation and Ocean Governance 2021 that some countries tried to maintain maritime hegemony by showing off at sea and forming an alliance to hurt other countries’ legal rights.

The United States is reportedly going to hold a Summit for Democracy on December 9-10, for which it has invited more than a 100 countries and governments including Taiwan to attend this virtual meeting. China, Russia and Hungary have not been extended invitations, according to a list obtained by Politico.

Ju Feng, a columnist of, wrote in an article that the Summit for Democracy underscored America’s political manipulations. Ju said the US invited India and the Philippines, both of which have seen deteriorating democratic conditions, as both were China’s neighbors.

He said it was unreasonable that the US tried to define democracy by itself by referring to “China’s Taiwan province” a democratic government.

Read: Weighing and debunking Taiwan war scenarios