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US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have reached an agreement to resume communications between their countries’ militaries at a summit in San Francisco designed to stabilise relations after several years of rising concern about possible conflict over Taiwan.
At a press conference on Wednesday following his meeting with Xi, Biden said the two countries had reached a series of agreements, including a commitment from China to reopen the communication channels between the two militaries that Beijing shut down after then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022.
China also agreed in principle to crack down on the export to Mexico of chemicals used to make fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has sparked a deadly drug epidemic in America.
Biden and Xi held roughly four hours of talks in what was their second summit since the US president took office in 2021. They are attempting to steady the turbulent US-China relationship, which has descended to its lowest point since the countries established ties in 1979.
Over the past three years, tensions have escalated over a range of issues. Washington has become increasingly concerned about Chinese military activity around Taiwan, China’s rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal and its treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
China has raised concerns in return about US export controls and other measures that are designed to make it much harder for it to obtain cutting-edge US technology, such as chips for quantum computing and artificial intelligence, that also have military applications.
As the leaders greeted each other at the Filoli estate outside San Francisco, Biden said they had an obligation to ensure competition did not turn into conflict. Xi said that despite some “grave” problems, they should be “fully capable of rising above differences”.
“Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed,” Xi said.
China’s official state news agency Xinhua said the two sides agreed to establish an intergovernmental dialogue on artificial intelligence, form a drug control working group, and increase the number of commercial flights between the countries.
Xinhua said Xi told Biden that Washington’s recent executive order restricting investment into China and sanctions “seriously damaged China’s legitimate interests”.
“Suppressing Chinese technology equates to containing China’s high-quality development and depriving the Chinese people of their right to development,” Xi said, noting he hoped the US would take actions to remedy the policies and provide fair treatment to Chinese companies.
Xi said China had “no plans to surpass or replace the US, and the US should not intend to suppress or contain China”.
After their talks, which included a lunch, the leaders strolled around the grounds of the estate. Asked by reporters nearby how the talks went, Biden responded “well” after giving a thumbs up.
The two leaders held their first in-person meeting a year ago on the sidelines of the G20 in Bali, Indonesia. At that meeting they also agreed on the need to resume high-level engagement to help ensure that coercion “did not veer into conflict”.
Their efforts were derailed three months later after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over North America and was shot down by the US military.
In recent months they have renewed engagement with a series of US cabinet secretaries including secretary of state Antony Blinken visiting Beijing, and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi making a reciprocal visit to Washington.
Ahead of the summit, however, US officials stressed that while there would be some more agreements, the aim of the meeting was to ensure there were top-level channels of communication to prevent misunderstandings and ensure they did not have a conflict.