President Joe Biden proposed a first face-to-face summit with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in a call last week, but failed to secure an agreement, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.
The newspaper quoted multiple people briefed on last Thursday’s call as saying that Xi did not take Biden up on the offer and instead insisted Washington adopt a less strident tone towards Beijing.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a source who was among those briefed on the 90-minute Biden-Xi call confirmed the report was accurate.
“Xi apparently intimated that the tone and atmosphere of the relationship needed to be improved first,” the source said.
China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond when asked to comment.
The Financial Times quoted one of its sources as saying Biden had floated the summit as one of several possibilities for follow-on engagement with Xi, and he had not expected an immediate response.
It cited one US official as saying that while Xi did not engage with the idea of a summit, the White House believed that was partly due to concerns about COVID-19.
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The G20 summit in Italy in October has been talked about as a possible venue for a face-to-face meeting, but Xi has not left China since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year.
The call between Biden and Xi was their first in seven months and they discussed the need to ensure that competition between the world’s two largest economies does not veer into conflict.
A US official briefing before the conversation called it a test of whether direct top-level engagement could end what had become a stalemate in ties, which are at the worst level in decades.
The White House said afterward it was intended to keep channels of communication open, but it has announced no plans for follow-on engagements.
Chinese state media said Xi had told Biden that U.S. policy on China imposed “serious difficulties” on relations but added that both sides agreed to maintain frequent contact and ask working-level teams to step up communications.