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Top US and Chinese officials meet in Malta for ‘substantive and constructive’ talks

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and United States national security adviser Jake Sullivan met for two days of talks in Malta over the weekend, as the world’s two leading economies seek to stabilize rocky relations and potentially smooth a path for leaders Joe Biden and Xi Jinping to meet in November.

In separate readouts, both sides said the discussions that took place over multiple meetings in the Mediterranean island nation were “candid, substantive, and constructive.”

The US said the two governments had committed to pursuing “additional high-level engagement and consultations” in key areas “in the coming months” in a signal of the expectation of continued diplomacy.

China’s Foreign Ministry said the two sides agreed to continue high-level communication on several fronts, including consultations on Asia-Pacific affairs, maritime affairs, and foreign policy.

The meeting follows a string of high-level visits from top US officials to Beijing in recent months and comes ahead of an opportunity for Chinese leader Xi to visit the US in November, when President Biden will host world leaders for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco.

Following the weekend’s talks, a senior Biden administration official said the White House had nothing to announce regarding a potential meeting between the two leaders, but noted that Biden hopes to meet with Xi soon.

Biden and Xi last met in November 2022 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali.

The meeting between Wang and Sullivan comes as Beijing and Washington have been taking steps to reestablish and strengthen communication to avoid their increasingly fraught and contentious relationship veering into conflict.

China severed multiples lines of communication with the US last August after a visit from then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. China’s ruling Communist Party views the self-ruled island democracy as its own and has not ruled out taking it by force.

The island remains one of the thorniest subjects between the two, with Wang telling Sullivan over the weekend that “the Taiwan issue is the first insurmountable red line in Sino-US relations,” according to a readout from China’s Foreign Ministry.

“The United States must abide by the three Sino-US joint communiques and implement its commitment not to support ‘Taiwan independence,’” the statement read, referring to the three joint statements made during the 1970s and early 80s that helped establish relations between the two sides.

The US “noted the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” according to the White House’s official account of the meetings, which also said the two sides discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine and global and regional security issues.

Military communication

The two sides also discussed the need to re-establish military-to-military dialogue between the US and China, the senior Biden official said following the weekend meeting.

The official said there were “limited indications” that China may be willing to re-establish those channels, but declined to elaborate further.

Beijing had previously pointed to America’s “unilateral sanctions,” as an “obstacle” that needs to be removed before such dialogue can resume, in an apparent reference to US sanctions on Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu.

Li has been at the center of mounting speculation in recent days that he has been placed under Communist Party investigation after vanishing from view for more than two weeks amid a series of unexplained personnel shakeups that roiled the party’s upper ranks this summer.

He had assumed his role earlier this year and has been under US sanctions since 2018 over China’s purchase of Russian weapons.

Asked whether Sullivan raised the whereabouts of Li, and the removal earlier this summer of then-Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, the Biden administration official said the subject did not come up during the talks.

Wang, who held the role of foreign minister for a decade until the end of last year and then stepped in again following Qin’s removal, is expected to continue his diplomatic travels with a visit to Moscow on Monday.

Wang would visit the country between September 18 and 21, China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday.

He is expected to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss “a wide range of bilateral cooperation issues,” according to a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry last week.

Those include a “detailed exchange of views on issues related to a settlement in Ukraine,” the Russian ministry said.

That meeting comes on the heels of a closely watched summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday, which the US has warned could lead to Pyongyang supplying Moscow with munitions for its war in Ukraine.

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