The White House announced on Sunday that its national security adviser met over the weekend with China’s top diplomat in Malta, as part of efforts to keep channels of communication open between the two nations amid rising tensions, and as political purges roil elite circles in Beijing.
Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, met with Wang Yi, the Communist Party’s top foreign policy official and China’s foreign minister, on Saturday and Sunday, the White House said in its summary of the talks. The summary said they spoke about 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 aims to rule and that is an important U.S. 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 that any disputes or conflicts must be resolved peacefully.
The U.S. official also said Mr. Sullivan stressed that China should not try to aid Russia in its war on Ukraine. The core of those concerns pertains to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that since the winter, China has been considering sending weaponry to President Vladimir V. Putin for his war. U.S. officials announced those findings in late February and confronted Chinese officials with them at the time. The White House official on the call said that China had so far refrained from sending any substantial weaponry.
The White House summary also said Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Wang agreed that the two governments would “pursue additional high-level engagement and consultations in key areas.” In recent weeks, U.S. officials have said they are trying to set up a meeting between President Biden and Xi Jinping, China’s leader, on the sidelines of an international summit in San Francisco in November. However, recent developments, especially within the Chinese government and the party, have cast doubt on whether that would happen.
Questions are swirling around recent purges within the top levels of the Chinese government and the Communist Party. U.S. officials determined this past week that Gen. Li Shangfu, the Chinese defense minister, who has not made any public appearances or pronouncements since late August, has been placed under investigation for corruption. In July, Mr. Xi abruptly ousted Qin Gang, the foreign minister, and announced that Mr. Wang, who had held that minister post before being promoted to the top foreign policy job within the party, would take over Mr. Qin’s duties.
U.S. intelligence agencies have been working hard to try to glean insights into the current conflicts within the leadership ranks, as part of a much broader espionage shadow war and intelligence collection campaign occurring between the United States and China.
Mr. Biden has made an effort since the spy balloon crisis early this year and since other flare-ups with China to try to have his top officials engage in high-level diplomacy with counterparts in Beijing to establish a foundation of stability in relations, no matter how 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 soon afterward, and even made headlines by dining at a popular restaurant in the Sanlitun district that serves exotic mushroom dishes. She was soon followed by John Kerry, the special climate envoy, and Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo.
When Mr. Blinken visited, his aides said that summer trips were part of a series of high-level exchange visits between the countries, which are the world’s two largest economies and main superpower rivals. 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 have been focused on trying to set up a potential fall 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 that is not certain, and Chinese officials often do not give final agreement to an important diplomatic meeting until the last minute, in order to try to exercise leverage with the other nation.
Mr. Xi is grappling with internal political issues as China’s economy is slowing, raising doubts worldwide about the nation’s prospects for continued growth. At the same time, an increasing number of Chinese citizens in elite circles are complaining about the direction of the country, privately criticizing Mr. Xi’s recent policies as well as his relentless promotion of party ideology and trumpeting of his own personal status within party history.