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US and Chinese leaders speak about human rights, Taiwan and trade

President Joe Biden meets virtually with President Xi Jinping of China, at the White House, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.DOUG MILLS/NYT

President Joe Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, pledged at a virtual summit to improve cooperation, but offered no major breakthroughs after more than three hours of talks Monday night.

Biden emphasized the need to keep “communication lines open,” according to a White House readout of the meeting, as the two countries confront disagreements over issues like the future of Taiwan, the militarization of the South China Sea and cybersecurity.

Biden also addressed several points of disagreement, including China’s human rights abuses, Taiwan, and China’s support of its state-based industries.

The leaders also discussed areas in which Chinese and American interests appear to be aligned, including efforts to combat global warming.

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Biden, seated in the Roosevelt Room at the White House before two large screens, opened the discussion shortly before 8 p.m. in Washington, noting that the two have “spent an awful lot of time talking to each other” over the years, dating to when Biden was vice president and Xi was a rising power.

“We need to establish some common-sense guardrails,” Biden said, using a phrase his administration has often cited as a goal for a challenging relationship. He added: “We have a responsibility to the world as well as to our people.”

Xi, speaking next from a chamber in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, also struck a conciliatory tone, especially compared to a series of acerbic statements by Chinese officials over the course of the year. He called Biden “my old friend” and said the two countries should work together.

China’s state television network reported that Xi “expressed his readiness to work with Biden to build consensus and take active steps to move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction.” He also called for mutual respect, an implicit criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of relations.

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The talks ended at around half-past noon in Beijing, after about 3 1/2 hours, according to the Chinese state television network, CCTV.

Since becoming president, Biden has spoken twice with Xi, but they have not met in person this year. Administration officials said the virtual meeting was meant to reassure both sides that misunderstandings and miscommunications would not lead to unintended clashes.

Biden has repeatedly suggested that it should be possible to avoid active military engagement with China, even as the United States engages in vigorous competition with Beijing and continues to confront the Chinese leadership on several significant issues.

But the call, which was initiated at Biden’s request, reflects his administration’s deep concern that the chances of keeping conflict at bay may be diminishing.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.