Xi Jinping declines Joe Biden's proposal to meet face-to-face during 90-minute call

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US president Joe Biden proposed a first face-to-face summit with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in a 90-minute-long call last week, but failed to secure an agreement, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

According to the report, Biden proposed to Xi that the leaders hold the summit in an effort to break an impasse in US-China relations, but the Chinese leader didn't take him up on it and insisted Washington adopt a less strident tone toward Beijing.

A source said, "Xi apparently intimated that the tone and atmosphere of the relationship needed to be improved first."

When asked late Tuesday at the White House whether he was disappointed that Xi didn't want to meet with him, Biden told reporters it's "not true."

While US officials stated that Xi's refusal was because Beijing was playing hardball with Washington, one US official said the White House believed this was partly due to concerns about COVID-19. Xi has not left China since he went to Myanmar in early 2020 before the outbreak of the pandemic.

The G20 summit in Italy is being talked about as a possible venue for a face-to-face meeting, but Chinese media have suggested that Xi may not attend it. He made a virtual appearance at the BRICS summit.

He isn't expected to appear at next week's United Nations General Assembly in New York either.

Biden and Xi spoke for about 90 minutes on 10 September, their first discussion since February.

On the call, Biden urged Xi to cooperate on key issues even as they continue to disagree on other topics, according to a statement from the White House. But the offer of a summit wasn't disclosed by the White House.

According to Bloomberg, the US sought to separate issues like climate change from more contentious ones like trade, human rights and democracy in places like Hong Kong, while Beijing insisted that they must not be separated.

While the White House hasn't commented on the article, Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, later said the account of the Biden-Xi call was not accurate.

"This is not an accurate portrayal of the call. Period," Sullivan said in a statement. "As we've said, the presidents discussed the importance of being able to have private discussions between the two leaders, and we're going to respect that."

With inputs from agencies

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