China's foreign ministry said on Thursday that the topic of a potential meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden is not on the agenda at the Sino-US talks in Alaska at the moment.
But during that dialogue, both sides can discuss any issue of common interests, including high-level exchanges, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman at the foreign ministry, said at a regular news briefing.
Earlier, people familier with the situation said that Beijing is seeking a meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping next month if the first high-level US-China talks in Alaska starting Thursday are productive.
The Biden-Xi meeting as envisioned by Chinese officials would be organized around Earth Day on April 22 to show both leaders are focused on combating climate change, one of the people was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.
Biden is already set to gather global leaders together on that day to push the world for greater ambition in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The prospect of the meeting was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
China's expectations for the meeting aren't "too high," Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the US, said in comments reported by state-run China Central Television. It will be a success if it starts a "honest, constructive and rational" dialogue, he added.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet China's top two diplomats, State Councilor Wang Yi and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska. Difficult discussions are anticipated over trade, human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong, China's western Xinjiang region, Taiwan, Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, and the coronavirus pandemic.
No agreements are expected.
"This really is a one-off meeting," said a senior administration official. "This is not the resumption of a particular dialogue mechanism or the beginning of a dialogue process." The official briefed reporters ahead of the meeting on the condition of anonymity.
Blinken will attend the meeting having just come from Japan and South Korea, where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were promoting the Biden administration's commitment to its treaty allies in Asia.
Just a day before the meeting, Blinken announced new sanctions on officials over China's crackdown on pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong. In response, the Chinese stepped up their rhetoric opposing US interference in domestic affairs.
China, not unexpectedly, slammed the US criticism of the move to give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of Hong Kong's lawmakers, which reduces the proportion of those directly elected and ensures that only those determined to be truly loyal to Beijing are allowed to run for office — effectively shutting opposition figures out of the political process.
The imposition of sanctions "fully exposes the US side's sinister intention to interfere in China's internal affairs, disrupt Hong Kong and obstruct China's stability and development," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing Wednesday.
The White House set low expectations for Blinken and Sullivan's meeting, which officials say will be an initial opportunity to address intense disagreements.