The White House announced Sunday that its national security adviser met with China’s top diplomat in Malta this weekend, part of efforts to keep communications open between the two nations and as political purges plague elite circles in Beijing.
Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, met Saturday and Sunday with Wang Yi, the Communist Party’s top foreign policy official and China’s foreign minister, the White House said in its summary of the talks. The summary said they discussed relations between the two nations, Russia’s war in Ukraine and tensions between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan, a de facto independent democratic island that the party wants to rule and which is a key US partner.
A senior White House official told reporters in a telephone briefing on Sunday that Mr. Sullivan reiterated American concerns about recent Chinese military actions around Taiwan and other coercive activities, and said any disputes or conflicts should be resolved peacefully.
The US official also said Mr Sullivan emphasized that China should not try to help Russia in its war against Ukraine. At the heart of these concerns are US intelligence’s assessment that China has been considering sending weapons to President Vladimir V. Putin for his war since the winter. U.S. officials announced these findings in late February and confronted Chinese officials about them at the time. The White House official said China has so far refrained from sending any substantial weapons.
The White House summary also said that Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Wang agreed that the two administrations would “pursue additional high-level engagement and consultation in key areas.” In recent weeks, U.S. officials have said they were trying to arrange a meeting between President Biden and Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, on the sidelines of an international summit in San Francisco in November. However, recent developments, especially within the Chinese government and party, have cast doubt on whether that would happen.
Questions are being raised about the recent purges within the highest levels of the Chinese government and the Communist Party. U.S. officials determined last week that Gen. Li Shangfu, China’s defense minister, who had not made any public appearances or statements since late August, was under investigation for corruption. In July, Mr. Xi abruptly ousted Qin Gang, the foreign minister, and announced that Mr. Wang, who had held that ministerial post before being promoted to the party’s top foreign policy post, would would take over from Mr. Qin.
U.S. intelligence agencies have been working hard to understand current conflicts within the leadership ranks, as part of a much broader spy shadow war and intelligence-gathering campaign between the United States and China.
Mr. Biden has been at pains since the spy balloon crisis early this year to try to get his top officials to engage in high-level diplomacy with counterparts in Beijing to bring stability to relations, however slight.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken traveled to Beijing in June for two days of meetings, mainly separate talks with Mr. Xi, Mr. Wang and Mr. Qin, after canceling a trip during the balloon episode in early February. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen went to Beijing shortly afterwards. She was followed by John Kerry, the special climate envoy, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
When Mr. Blinken visited, his aides said summer trips were part of a series of high-level visits between the countries, the world’s two largest economies. But in recent weeks, U.S. officials have said they do not expect Cabinet-level Chinese officials to come to Washington anytime soon. Instead, they were focused on organizing a possible autumn meeting between Mr Biden and Mr Xi, which would take place on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit in November.
However, U.S. officials say this is not certain, and Chinese officials often only give final approval to a major diplomatic meeting at the last minute, in an effort to gain influence over the other country.
Mr Xi is grappling with domestic political issues as China’s economy slows, casting doubt on the country’s prospects for sustained growth. At the same time, a growing number of Chinese citizens in elite circles are complaining about the country’s direction, criticizing Mr. Xi’s recent policies as well as his ruthless promotion of party ideology and trumpeting his own personal status within party history.