Direct lines of communication between American and Chinese military forces are to be reopened for the first time in more than a year, Joe Biden has announced.
Speaking after a meeting with China’s premier Xi Jinping in California, the US president said the restoration of military-to-military communications would help to prevent accidents which could spiral into wider conflicts.
Beijing formally suspended direct military contact with the US in April 2022 in the wake of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island of Taiwan – which China views as a breakaway province.
The move to restart them was one of three agreements President Biden presented to the media following face-to-face conversations with President Xi on Wednesday – their first meeting in a year.
Mr Biden said the pair had agreed on a deal to curb the production of fentanyl – a drug which has led to a huge spike in deaths in US cities – and on the need to discuss the potential risks of artificial intelligence (AI).
Mr Biden said he had also raised American concerns about China’s ruling Communist Party, including allegations of human rights abuses and Beijing’s expansion of maritime operations in the South China Sea.
However, he said he remained committed to the US’s long-standing “One China” policy – the bedrock of Washington-Beijing relations – in which the US maintains formal ties with China and only informal ones with Taiwan.
The US president said both he and Mr Xi had agreed to open high-level communications following a period of increased tensions between the two countries.
“He and I agreed that each one of us can pick up the phone, call directly and we’ll be heard immediately,” he told
reporters after the meeting.
When asked by a reporter at the press conference about whether he “trusted” the Chinese president, Mr Biden replied: “Do I trust [him]?
“Trust but verify, as the saying goes.
“We are in a competitive relationship – China and the US – but my responsibility is to make this rational and manageable so it doesn’t result in conflict.
“To find a place where we come together and where we find mutual interest – and most importantly, from my perspective, for the American people.”
He said he and and Chinese premier had “not always agreed” on issues, but that the Chinese president had been “straightforward” with him.
Mr Biden also ascribed the success of their meeting to “just talking, just being blunt with one another, so there’s no misunderstanding”.
The US president had earlier welcomed the Chinese leader at the Filoli estate, a country house and gardens about 30 miles (48 km) south of San Francisco, ahead of a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
The meeting came amid increasingly strained tensions between the two global powers.
Mr Biden had earlier billed the meeting as a chance for Washington and Beijing to get back “on a normal course” again, and that the two countries had to make sure that rivalry between them did “not veer into conflict”.
Since they last met in November 2022, fraught relations have been further strained by the US downing of a Chinese ‘spy’ balloon that flew over America and by differences on the self-ruled island of Taiwan, as well as China’s hacking of a Biden official’s emails.
Mr Xi said a lot had happened since their last meeting, telling the media: “The world has emerged from the COVID pandemic, but is still under its tremendous impacts. The global economy is recovering, but its momentum remains sluggish.”
He said prior to the meeting that he wanted assurances from Mr Biden that the US would not support Taiwan independence, start a new Cold War, or suppress China’s economic growth.
Mr Xi said he was also keen to show America that China is still a good place to invest.
After the meeting, Mr Biden wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “I value the conversation I had today with President Xi because I think it’s paramount that we understand each other clearly, leader to leader.
“There are critical global challenges that demand our joint leadership. And today, we made real progress.”
The White House later said in a readout of their conversation that the talks had been “candid and constructive” and that they had “made progress on a number of key issues”.
“The two leaders welcomed the resumption of high-level military-to-military communication, as well as the US-China Defence Policy Coordination Talks and the US-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings,” the White House said.
“Both sides are also resuming telephone conversations between theatre commanders.”