- By Max Matza in San Francisco & Gareth Evans in Washington
- BBC news
The United States and China have agreed to resume military-to-military communications in an effort to ease rising tensions, President Joe Biden says.
“We are back to direct, open and clear communication,” he said after a rare meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California on Wednesday.
It was the first time the pair had spoken in person in over a year.
But there were still signs of tension between the two – with Mr Biden reiterating his view that Mr Xi is a dictator.
China’s foreign ministry later criticized the remarks, but they do not appear to have taken the shine off what both sides are portraying as a largely successful meeting.
Sir. Biden also said that both leaders had agreed to establish a direct line of communication with each other.
At a news conference after the summit, which took place at a historic country estate near San Francisco, Mr Biden said a lack of communication was “how accidents happen” and added that both presidents could now “pick up the phone and be heard immediately.” .
China suspended military-to-military communications last year after then-US Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. Beijing sees self-governing Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to annex it by force if necessary.
Sir. Biden said that while there were still many differences between the pair, Mr Xi had “just been straight”. He said the talks were “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had”.
Speaking later at a dinner with US business leaders, Mr Xi spoke openly of wanting to pursue better relations with the US.
He said he and President Biden agreed to continue on a path of diplomacy and cooperation.
“The door to China-US relations cannot be closed again now that it is open,” he said. “We must build more bridges and pave more roads between each other.”
But in a sign of how difficult relations remain, Mr Biden, as he left the stage, responded to a reporter’s question by saying he considered Mr Xi a dictator.
“He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country… based on a form of government that’s completely different from ours,” he said. When Mr Biden made a similar comment in June, Chinese officials reacted angrily, describing it as “extremely absurd and irresponsible”.
On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry condemned Mr Biden’s remark, saying the description was “extremely wrong” and “irresponsible political manipulation”.
It was a sour note in what is seen as a generally positive meeting between the two leaders.
The “dictator” remark was noticeably absent from state news agency Xinhua’s reading of the meeting. The reading – which can sometimes be an indication of how good or bad the Chinese government perceives the relationship to be – contained talk of significant progress in bilateral ties.
In addition to resuming military communications, the two sides announced several other agreements in areas that have become sources of tension in recent times.
These included taking steps to tackle the flow of fentanyl into the United States, which has contributed to an increase in overdose deaths in the country.
Chinese manufacturing companies are not only a source of the synthetic opioid itself, but of precursor chemicals that can be combined to make it. “We are taking steps to significantly reduce the flow of precursor chemicals and pill presses from China to the Western Hemisphere,” Mr. Biden said.
Under the agreement, China will directly target companies that produce these precursor chemicals. “It will save lives,” Mr Biden told reporters.
The two leaders also discussed the conflict in Israel and Gaza. A senior US official told reporters that Mr Biden had asked China to use its influence on Iran to urge it not to take steps that could be seen as provocative.
The two superpowers also agreed to jointly explore artificial intelligence (AI) and had a lengthy conversation on Taiwan, which a US official Mr Xi said was “the biggest and most dangerous issue in US-China ties”.
After the talks, China said the restored communication between the two militaries was on “the basis of equality and respect”.
While the meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit was highly anticipated, officials on both sides downplayed expectations of any major breakthrough.
“The objectives here are really about managing competition, preventing the downside of risk – conflict and ensuring that channels of communication are open,” said a senior US administration official.
Relations worsened in February when a suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down over US airspace.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing in June, making him the highest-ranking Washington official to visit the Chinese capital in nearly half a decade. He met President Xi and then Foreign Minister Qin Gang.
At the end of his trip, Mr Blinken said that although there were still major problems between the two countries, he hoped they would have “better communication [and] better commitment going forward”.
Additional reporting by Fan Wang in Singapore and BBC Monitoring