Sullivan said he didn’t know the exact date of the meeting, but the decision was made when he met with Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, in Zurich earlier this month.
“They will be able to sit as close to face-to-face as technology allows to see one another and spend a significant amount of time going over the full agenda,” Sullivan told reporters.
The two leaders have spoken on the phone twice in 2021, but have yet met in person since Biden took office in January. There was speculation that they could meet in Rome, where the G-20 summit will be held for two days starting on Oct. 30, or at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, which takes place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.
“Xi has chosen not to attend these summits,” Sullivan said. “He’s chosen not to leave China at all in calendar year 2021 to see any leader.”
The Chinese leader hasn’t traveled outside of China in more than 20 months. His last overseas trip took place in January 2020, when he visited Burma for two days. Less than a week after his trip, Wuhan, China, was placed on lockdown over the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the pathogen that causes the disease COVID-19.
When asked if Xi had made a mistake in deciding not to travel overseas, Sullivan declined to comment.
“All I can say is, from the U.S. president’s perspective, President Biden does believe it’s important that he have the opportunity to have a face-to-face engagement with Xi Jinping,” he said.
“And if it’s not possible in person because of Xi’s travel constraints, doing it by virtual meeting is the next best thing. That’s what we’re intending to do.”
Sullivan stated that it’s important for the two leaders to hold regular talks.
“In an era of intense competition between the U.S. and China, intense diplomacy at the highest levels, leader-level diplomacy is vital to effectively managing this relationship,” he said.
While bilateral trade, climate change, and the pandemic are among a list of issues that could be on the agenda when the two leaders speak virtually, it remains to be seen whether Biden will press Xi on some tougher issues, such as China’s human rights violations or international concerns about China hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics.
A coalition of groups, known as No Beijing 2022, is calling on governments to boycott the Olympics, which are set to begin in Beijing on Feb. 4, 2022. The groups say that the Chinese regime is unfit to hold the games over its alleged human rights abuses in Hong Kong and China’s western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.
On Oct. 14, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) sent Biden a letter (pdf) asking the president to join his call to move the games from China. The senator also wanted the president to answer a number of questions, including on the safety of U.S. athletes, given that the communist regime is known for “arbitrary enforcement of laws and wrongful detention.”
“What commitments, if any, has the Chinese Communist Party made to the U.S. government about the health and safety of the U.S. delegation and American athletes and coaches?” Scott asked.
“How will you ensure that all American athletes’ communications will not be subject to Chinese law and censorship?”
In April, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing that the United States wasn’t discussing a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners,” Psaki said.
Even on issues that the regime in Beijing has shown a willingness to cooperate with the United States, the Chinese regime has previously said that there are strings attached to that cooperation.
In September, Beijing hinted to Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry that its action on climate change may be conditional on how Washington would respond to its set of demands.
“China–U.S. climate cooperation cannot be separated from the wider environment of the Sino-U.S. relations,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry in Tianjin, China, on Sept. 1.