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US-China tensions

Biden to tell Xi to 'play by the rules' at 1st virtual summit

Taiwan, Beijing Olympics and relationship management to headline 3rd direct talks

U.S. President Joe Biden's first virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping comes after Beijing's ambassador to Washington warned that China will "make no promise to renounce the use of force" for Taiwan unification. (Photo courtesy of the White House) 

WASHINGTON/BEIJING -- U.S. President Joe Biden will express his concern over China's coercive actions toward Taiwan and human rights violations against Uyghurs in his first virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday evening, according to a senior U.S. government official.

He will also suggest that the two countries maintain dialogue to keep the bilateral competition from turning into inadvertent conflict during the talks, which will be held on Tuesday morning in Asia.

The talks will mark the third direct conversation between the two leaders and the first time since their phone call in September. But Monday's talks are considered a "virtual meeting" and an upgrade in engagement compared with previous telephone discussions.

It is important "to have the leader sit down face to face and have a real discussion about the nature of the relationship, our terms and expectations for it, how to conduct the competition in a way that is competitive but doesn't lead to conflict, and how to find ways to manage the risks that we see in that competition," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters ahead of the meeting.

"This is an opportunity for President Biden to tell President Xi directly that he expects him to play by the rules of the road, which is what other responsible nations do," the official said.

But the official also said the U.S. side does not expect that "deliverables" will come out the meeting, nor that new dialogues will be launched.

In addition to concerns about provocative Chinese actions in the Taiwan Strait and the East and South China seas, Biden is expected to express concern about human rights violations abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, as well as Chinese cyberattacks.

While the U.S. does not challenge the Chinese position that the mainland and Taiwan are indivisible, it is also committed to assisting Taiwanese self-defense capabilities through the Taiwan Relations Act. In August, the U.S. government approved the latest round of arms sales to Taiwan. And in October, it became known that U.S. troops were stationed there.

Qin Gang, China's ambassador to the U.S., said in a virtual speech last week that Beijing would work to promote cross-strait integration and development but not rule out force. "We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means," he told a event hosted by the Alliance for China's Peaceful Reunification in San Francisco.

Xi mentioned the possibility of the use of force in January 2019 but has since avoided direct mention of the option because of outcries at home and abroad. The fact that those close to Xi are deliberately raising the issue indicates a growing sense of crisis over U.S. involvement.

As he looks to extend his rule beyond the Chinese Communist Party's National Congress in the fall of next year, the leader cannot afford to appear weak on Taiwan.

While Biden will take a tough stance on Taiwan and other issues, he will also emphasize that dialogue between the leaders should continue to prevent bilateral tensions from escalating into accidental military conflict. There have been no recent meetings between the top U.S. and Chinese defense officials, and some worry that communication channels in the security sector are narrowing.

Washington and Beijing are carefully assessing the distance between each other as they search for agreement on climate change and other issues. The upcoming meeting is also expected to confirm the importance of bilateral cooperation on climate change, and Biden is set to urge Xi to take further action.

On trade, issues related to intellectual property infringement and excessive industrial subsidies will also likely be on the agenda. The Chinese side may urge the U.S. to lift tariffs and sanctions imposed during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Some in the U.S. and Europe, citing human rights violations, are calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics to be held in February 2022 in Beijing. CNBC reported that Xi is expected to invite Biden to the Games in the upcoming meeting. If the invitation is extended, all eyes will be on how Biden responds.

The U.S. and China agreed to hold leaders talks by the end of the year when U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, met in Switzerland in early October.

Biden had called for an in-person meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Italy at the end of October. But Xi, who has halted visits abroad as a precaution against the new coronavirus, decided not to attend.

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