US national security adviser Jake Sullivan met in Luxembourg on Monday with the top Chinese diplomat for a “candid, substantive, and productive discussion” at a tense moment between their two countries, according to the White House.
The talks, which hadn’t been announced beforehand, ran four-and-a-half hours. They came as a potential precursor to a meeting between President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, which the White House has said is possible in the coming months.
Disagreements on human rights, Taiwan, trade and China’s military expansion have caused strained relations between Washington and Beijing. Biden’s vow last month to intervene militarily should China invade the self-governing Taiwan only aggravated the situation.
Biden is also weighing whether to remove some tariffs on China that were imposed by former President Donald Trump in a bid to tame inflation in the United States.
After Sullivan’s meeting with Yang Jiechi, a senior US administration official said to expect to “see additional potential meetings in the months ahead,” though they said nothing is currently being planned between Biden and Xi.
Sullivan’s meeting with Yang came after a phone call last month ahead of Biden’s first visit to Asia. The White House has held a number of engagements over the past weeks to demonstrate its commitment to the Asia-Pacific, including hosting Southeast Asian leaders at the White House.
Those steps have been viewed as an attempt to counter China’s influence in the region, which has been a primary driver of Biden’s focus on Asia.
“Mr. Sullivan underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to manage competition between our two countries,” the White House said in a readout of Monday’s meeting.
Previous meetings between Sullivan and Yang have preceded phone calls between Biden and Xi, who have yet to meet in person since Biden took office. They last spoke in March for 110 minutes when Biden sought to dissuade Xi from providing support to Russia in its war in Ukraine.
That issue was discussed in Luxembourg on Monday, along with recent provocations from North Korea and the detention of Americans in China. Sullivan said Americans subject to exit bans were a “personal priority” for Biden and him.
He also voiced concern about China’s recent veto of a resolution at the United Nations Security Council related to North Korea. And he underscored “the importance of maintaining open lines of communication at all levels.”
The US goal in engaging China is “ensuring that each side understand one another’s intentions, understands priorities,” the official said. “This is critical to avoiding potential miscommunication, misinterpretation, reducing risk. All these things I think are critical for, you know, managing the relationship in a healthy and responsible way.”