US President Joe Biden opened his virtual meeting with China’s Xi Jinping by saying their goal is to ensure competition “does not veer into conflict”.
The two leaders are meeting by video amid mounting tensions in the US-China relationship.
Mr Biden has criticised Beijing over human rights abuses against Uyghurs in northwest China, curbing democratic protests in Hong Kong, military aggression against the self-ruled island of Taiwan and more.
Mr Xi’s deputies, meanwhile, have lashed out against the Biden White House for interfering in what it sees as internal Chinese matters.
“It seems to be our responsibility as the leaders of China and the United States to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended, rather than simple, straightforward competition,” Mr Biden said at the start of the meeting.
“I stand ready to work with you, Mr President, to build consensus, take active steps and move China-US relations forward in a positive direction,” said Mr Xi, who called Mr Biden his “old friend”.
The US president was joined in the Roosevelt Room for the video call by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and national security aides Kurt Campbell, Laura Rosenberger and Jon Czin.
The high-level diplomacy had a touch of pandemic Zoom meeting informality as the two leaders waved to each other once they saw one another on the screen.
Mr Biden would have preferred to meet Mr Xi in person, but the Chinese leader has not left his country since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House floated the idea of a virtual meeting as the next best thing to allow for the two leaders to have a candid conversation about a wide range of strains in the relationship.
Chinese officials said Taiwan would be their top issue for the talks.
Tensions have heightened as the Chinese military has dispatched an increasing number of fighter jets near the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
“The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as China’s core interest,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday.
“It is the most important and sensitive issue in China-US relations.”