President Biden’s National Security Adviser Holds Two Days of Talks in Malta with China’s Foreign Minister

President Joe Biden’s national security adviser met with the foreign minister of China over the past couple of days on Malta, the Mediterranean island nation, in an effort the White House said on Sunday was intended to “responsibly maintain the relationship” during a time of mutual suspicion and strained ties between the two rival powers.

In a statement, the White House said that Chinese envoy Wang Yi and Jake Sullivan had “candid, substantive and constructive discussions” as the world’s two biggest economies try “to maintain open lines of communication.” Wang and Sullivan met last May in Vienna for talks. The two met for around 12 hours together in Malta over two days. 

China and Washington see themselves as competitors even though there is an extensive trade partnership. The president recently spoke with Chinese Premier Li Qiang while visiting India at the Group of 20 summit and told reporters that “it wasn’t confrontational at all.” They had spoken about “stability.”

Biden: Alliances aren’t about a “cold war” with China

The Biden administration has worked to strengthen relations with South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, India,  and others to counterbalance the influence of China across the Pacific Region. However, Biden said last Sunday at a news conference in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, that those alliances aren’t about a “cold war” with China. 

“It’s not about containing China,” said Biden. “It’s about having a stable base” for international economic growth. 

However, the relationships are still full of pressures that are competing. 

Earlier this year, the Biden administration shot down a Chinese spy balloon that traveled across the continental U.S. The Chinese government hacked the emails of Gina Raimondo, Commerce Secretary. 

The government of the United States has restricted the export of advanced computer chips to China. After the centralization of power by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese economy hasn’t rebounded as expected after the end of its pandemic lockdowns. 

The White House said Wang and Sullivan discussed the relationship between the regional and global security issues and the relationship between the two countries, the Taiwan Strait and Russia’s war in Ukraine. They also discussed counternarcotics efforts, artificial intelligence, and the status of detained Americans in China.

“The United States noted the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. The two sides committed to maintain this strategic communication channel and to pursue additional high-level engagement and consultations in key areas between the United States and the People’s Republic of China in the coming months,” said the statement.

A Biden administration senior official who briefed reporters on the discussions said the two sides didn’t discuss the whereabouts of Li Shangfu, Chinese Defense Minister, who hasn’t been seen publicly since August 29. 

Speculation about the standing of Li comes after Qin Gang was removed abruptly as foreign minister in July, which was announced publicly after he vanished from public view earlier in the summer. 

The president’s ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, used a post on social media last week to take note of Li’s situation. “As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,’” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

When asked why Sullivan didn’t raise the issue with Wang, the administration official, speaking anonymously when discussing the closed-door meeting, said the focus of the talks was the bilateral relationship.

The Wang-Sullivan meeting comes as the president and other international leaders prepare to participate in the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. President Biden is set to address the world body on Tuesday and meet with the leaders of five nations in Central Asia — Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. 

Xi has continued to court those countries. During his own country’s summit in May with other leaders from Central Asia, Xi promised to build more railways and other trade links with the area and proposed developing gas and oil sources jointly.

Last week, Sullivan told reporters that Biden’s meeting with those leaders shouldn’t be seen as an effort to influence China in the region.

“Look, this summit is not against any country,” said Sullivan when previewing the meeting. “It is for a positive agenda that we want to work through with these countries.”

Xi didn’t attend the G20 summit last weekend in New Delhi and isn’t expected to be in New York for the General Assembly. The president has said he hopes to meet soon with Xi. They haven’t spoken since they met for talks in Indonesia last November. 

Additionally, Sullivan met with the prime minister of Malta, Robert Abela. They spoke about the role of the Mediterranean region in helping to provide “global peace and security,” said a statement from the Maltese government.