July 13, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Senior US and Chinese officials held “candid” talks in Washington as a flurry of high-level diplomacy bolsters expectations President Xi Jinping will attend a major summit in California this year.

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Daniel Kritenbrink, the top State Department official for Asia, met with Vice Foreign Minister for Asia Sun Weidong on Thursday, in the latest exchange of government officials from the world’s largest economies.

The two men had a “constructive” conversation about regional issues including North Korea, and emphasized the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific, according to a State Department readout.

China and the US have been trying to stabilize their relationship after an alleged Chinese spy balloon floated over America earlier this year, sending ties into free fall. The two sides are also sparring over trade, President Joe Biden’s curbs on Beijing’s access to cutting edge technology and Xi’s territorial claims over Taiwan.

The Biden administration has sent a slew of cabinet-level officials to Beijing since June to get relations back on track. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met in Malta earlier this month to discuss a meeting of their leaders.

The next opportunity for leader-level talks would be the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November. China said earlier this week it is talking to the US about who will represent the Asian nation at the event, and will make an announcement “in due time.”

Vice Premier He Lifeng and Wang are both now discussing possible visits to Washington to prepare for a potential meeting between Xi and Biden, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing unidentified people briefed on the matter.

In another sign of thawing ties, Washington recently asked Beijing for its help handling the return of a US soldier who crossed into North Korea. “China provided the necessary assistance in the humanitarian spirit,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Thursday at a regular press briefing.

Last week, China and the US said they were establishing working groups to discuss economic and financial issues, in another sign of improving communication lines. The Treasury Department said that meetings will now be held at the vice-minister level, with officials reporting back to Secretary Janet Yellen and Chinese Vice Premier He.

Biden hasn’t spoken to Xi since last year’s Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. The two men were expected to rub shoulders at the G-20 summit in India earlier this month, but Xi abruptly snubbed that meeting for the first time since taking power in 2012.

(Adds Treasury statement on meetings in second-to-last paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of San Francisco.)

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