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First 'Virtual Meeting' With Biden, China’s Xi Could Be April’s Climate Summit

Giant screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, March 11, 2021.
Giant screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, March 11, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden could meet virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping as early as April 22, as Biden hosts the “Global Leaders Climate Summit” in Washington on Earth Day.

The event is aimed at gathering world leaders to discuss climate change, which Biden has described as “an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security.”

On Tuesday, a senior U.S. administration official described the approach as “we're going to cooperate with China, where we have an interest in doing so.”

U.S. officials have said China, the largest emitter of carbon in the world, must raise its ambitions on carbon neutrality. China contributes 30% of the world’s emissions and has announced its goal to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. The United States is second in the world, contributing about 15% of the world’s emissions and has announced a goal of reaching net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

The first high-level in-person meeting between top U.S. and Chinese officials is expected on Thursday in Anchorage, Alaska, where U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan are meeting with Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, and chief diplomat Yang Jiechi.

Having the top U.S. diplomat and the national security advisor together in talks with their Chinese counterparts sends a clear message that “this administration is unified and coordinated when it comes to China policy,” said that senior administration official during a call briefing, adding the United States has “seen a track record from China in the past of attempting to try to play favorites within an administration.”

The Alaska meeting is a “one off meeting” and not the resumption of a particular dialogue mechanism, neither will there be a joint statement, the official added.

Tensions between the United States and China are at their worst in decades due to clashes over trade policy, 5G technology, human rights and regional security.

U.S. officials have said Washington will raise issues with China including “Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Chinese economic coercion of our allies and partners, and China's increasingly aggressive activities across the Taiwan Strait.”

Concerns over North Korea's continuing nuclear and missiles programs are high on the agenda as the head of the U.S. military's Northern Command, Air Force General Glen VanHerck, warned on Tuesday that North Korea might begin testing an “improved” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) design in the “near future.”

According to recent estimates, North Korea possesses anywhere from 15-60 nuclear warheads. It also has an increasingly diverse array of ballistic missiles, including some that may be able to reach anywhere in the continental United States.

The Biden administration is expected to unveil its North Korea policy review in coming weeks, after Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrap up their first overseas tour to Asia.

U.S. officials are exploring the possibility of working with China over the North Korea denuclearization issue.

“Throughout this review process, we will have and we will continue to engage with our Japanese and South Korean allies to solicit input as well as explore fresh approaches. We’ve listened carefully to their ideas, including through trilateral consultation,” State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told VOA this week.

She added the “thorough interagency review” will include “evaluating all options” to address the increased threats posed by North Korea to its neighbors and the international community.

Biden has described North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a "thug," saying a meeting would only happen "on the condition” that Kim would agree on “drawing down his nuclear capacity." Blinken has mentioned more sanctions in Washington’s approaches to Pyongyang.

In a statement published this week, the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Yo Jong, warned the Biden administration against "causing a stink" if it wants peace. It came as South Korean and U.S. troops began a joint springtime military drill last week, and before the Secretary of State and Pentagon chief arrive in Seoul for talks.

“No surprise that North Korea has shown zero interest in nuclear talks,” Robert Manning, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Atlantic Council, told VOA. He added “Kim Jong Un is mired in his deepest domestic crisis” including devastating floods as well as the coronavirus pandemic that led the country to seal its borders more than a year ago.

Victor Cha, an analyst at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, told reporters in a press call that he believed Blinken will reestablish the process of regular trilateral meetings and “trilateral cooperation among the three key allies in Asia” to address continuing threats from North Korea.

Other analysts, including Drew Thompson, a former U.S. defense official and now a senior research fellow at National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said it seems like particularly poor timing to resume the six-party talks.

“North Korea has been unresponsive to overtures, is not serious about denuclearization or even returning to its 2005 commitment to abandon its programs, so unless the other five parties are unified in their commitment to North Korea giving up its programs, it is unlikely to make any progress.”