Over the course of two days, President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser held a crucial meeting with China’s Foreign Minister on the island nation of Malta. Situated in the Mediterranean, this gathering aimed at responsibly maintaining bilateral relations amidst strained ties and mutual suspicion between the two global powerhouses.
The White House declared Jake Sullivan and Chinese diplomat Wang Yi engaged in “candid, substantive and constructive discussions” as they probed ways to maintain open communication lines. The officials, who previously met in Vienna, dedicated nearly 12 hours of dialogue spread over this two-day meeting in Malta.
Despite a significant trade relationship, Washington and Beijing view each other as competitors. While attending the G20 Summit in India, President Biden engaged in talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang. The discussion revolved around stability and reportedly lacked confrontation.
In an apparent bid to counterbalance China’s influence in the Pacific region, Biden has pursued stronger ties with Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam, amongst others. However, the President was quick to dismiss notions of a “cold war” with China during a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. He stressed that the alliances were not aimed at containing China, but ensuring a stable base for global economic growth.
Yet, this alliance is not free of contention. Earlier this year, the Biden administration intercepted a Chinese spy balloon transiting over America. The Chinese government infamously hacked the email account of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, while the U.S. responded by limiting the export of advanced computer chips to China. In the midst of these tensions, China’s economic recovery has been sluggish post its pandemic lockdowns, coinciding with President Xi Jinping consolidating his power.
During their discussions, Sullivan and Wang examined the mutual relationship, worldwide and regional security issues, Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, and the Taiwan Strait. Other topics included artificial intelligence, counternarcotic endeavors, and the conditions surrounding U.S. citizens detained in China.
There were no talks regarding the whereabouts of Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has remained out of public view since late August. This is amidst speculation following the surprising removal of Qin Gang as foreign minister in July.
Leaders across the globe are gearing up for the annual UN General Assembly, including President Biden, scheduled to address the assembly and meet leaders of five Central Asian countries. In contrast, Xi Jinping has been courting these nations, pledging to enhance trade links and co-develop natural resources.
Contradicting any arguments of an ambition to counter Chinese influence, Sullivan stated that the impending summit with Central Asian leaders is a proactive agenda rather than one opposing any particular nation.
Unlike Biden, Xi Jinping did not attend the recent G20 summit in India and is not projected to appear at the General Assembly in New York. However, Biden hopes for a meeting with the Chinese President, the last of which took place last November in Indonesia.
Simultaneously, Sullivan’s diplomacy included a meeting with Malta’s Prime Minister, Robert Abela. The talks revolved around the role of the Mediterranean region in upholding global peace and security, as per a statement from the Maltese government.