Biden says G talks expected ‘soon’ after unveiling submarine deal to counter China

SAN DIEGO, March 13 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden said he expected to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon after unveiling details of a major submarine deal with Britain and Australia aimed at countering China, but declined to say when.

Asked in a meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego if he was worried China would view the AUKUS submarine deal as aggression, Biden replied “no.”

Asked if he would talk to Xi soon, Biden said “yes,” but answered “no” when asked by reporters when he would speak.

Biden said in mid-February he would speak to Xi about what the U.S. said was a Chinese spy balloon that flew into American airspace, worsening already tense relations, but no such call has been announced.

US national security adviser Jack Sullivan said last week that the US wants to re-establish regular communications with China, and that Biden is expected to speak by phone with Xi after China’s government returns to work following its annual National People’s Congress, which ended on Monday.

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The AUKUS deal to supply nuclear-powered submarines to Australia is aimed at countering China in the Indo-Pacific and Beijing has condemned it as an illegal act of nuclear proliferation.

“Competition requires dialogue and diplomacy,” Sullivan told a small group of reporters about China while discussing AUKUS last week. “We encourage formal communication at senior levels of the PRC (People’s Republic).”

Asked when a call with Xi might happen, Sullivan replied: “The (US) president looks forward to the opportunity to engage in a phone call once the people’s Congress is over and the government, including the president, is back to work in Beijing.”

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“Over an 18-month period we have communicated with (China) about AUKUS and sought more information from them about their intentions,” Sullivan added, referring to China’s military build-up, including nuclear-powered submarines.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing on Tuesday that China and the United States are maintaining necessary communications.

“We believe that the value and importance of communication is to improve the level of understanding and manage our differences,” Wang said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Xi plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The newspaper said the call could come after Xi’s visit to Moscow next week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sullivan told reporters on his way to San Diego on Monday that Washington was publicly and privately encouraging Xi to talk to Zelenskiy.

Sullivan added that Ukraine has not confirmed a call between Xi and Zelenskiy.

Reporting by Steve Holland and David Brunstrom; Additional reporting by Michael Martina and Joe Cash in Beijing; Editing by Grant McCool and Stephen Coates

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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