The US president, Joe Biden, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, are planning to meet by video link before the end of the year, a senior US official said on Wednesday.
There is an “agreement in principle” for the “virtual bilateral”, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The virtual meeting was announced after the US national security adviser Jake Sullivan met China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in the Swiss city of Zurich in six-hour talks aimed at improving communication between the two countries.
The closed-door meeting at an airport hotel was the pair’s first face-to-face encounter since an unusually public airing of grievances in Alaska in March.
US officials had suggested the meeting was a follow-on from Biden’s 9 September call with Xi, prior to which the world’s top two economies appeared to have been locked in a stalemate.
Sullivan’s trip continues an increase in contact between Beijing and Washington, as Biden argues for establishing “guardrails” for the growing contest between the two powers.
Tension is rising over China’s aggressive posture toward Taiwan, the US decision to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, trade disputes and human rights violations against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
The White House said Sullivan raised concerns during the meeting about China’s actions in the South China Sea, as well as human rights and Beijing’s stances on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan.
Both Beijing and Washington said the talks were constructive and candid. The US side said the tone was very different from Alaska.
Early speculation had been that Biden and Xi might meet in person at the G20 summit in Italy in October, but Xi has not left China since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic early last year and is not expected to attend the summit in Rome or the UN climate conference in Glasgow.
“Today’s conversation, broadly speaking, was a more meaningful and substantive engagement than we’ve had to date below the leader level,” the US official said, adding that Washington hoped it would be a “model for future encounters”.
The official said it shouldn’t be seen as a thaw in relations, however.
“What we are trying to achieve is a steady state between the United States and China where we are able to compete intensely but to manage that competition responsibly,” the official said.
China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Yang told Sullivan that confrontation would damage both countries and the world.
“The two sides agreed to take action … to strengthen strategic communication, properly manage differences, avoid conflict and confrontation,” the ministry statement said.
Biden’s call with Xi in September ended a nearly seven-month gap in direct communication between the leaders, and the two discussed the need to ensure that their competition does not veer into conflict.
The strain in the US-China relationship has been exacerbated recently by the Chinese military flying dozens of sorties near the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
Biden said on Tuesday that he spoke to Xi about Taiwan and they agreed to abide by the “Taiwan agreement”.
The US secretary of state Antony Blinken on Wednesday reiterated concerns that Beijing was undermining regional peace and stability with its “provocative” action.
“We strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure and coercion directed at Taiwan,” said Blinken, who was in Paris for talks with French officials.
Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report