VP Harris has a brief meeting with Chinese leader Xi

BANGKOK (AP) — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris briefly spoke with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Saturday in a new move to keep the lines of communication open between the two largest economies.

A White House official said Harris and Xi exchanged remarks on Saturday as they headed to a closed-door meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Bangkok.

The official said Harris echoed President Joe Biden’s comment to Xi at a meeting between the two leaders earlier this week that China and the US must keep the lines of communication open to “responsibly manage competition between our countries.”

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak to the media.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been beset by frictions over trade and technology, China’s claims to the separately governed island of Taiwan, the pandemic and China’s handling of Hong Kong, human rights and other issues.

On Friday, Harris pitched the US as a reliable economic partner, telling a business conference on the sidelines of APEC, “The United States is here to stay.”

Harris told leaders at the APEC summit that the US is a “proud power in the Pacific” and has “a vital interest in advancing a region that is open, interconnected, prosperous, secure and resilient.”

After receiving news that North Korea had fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that had landed near Japanese waters, Harris called an emergency meeting of the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, during which she dismissed the missile test as a “brutal violation of multiple UN security resolutions.”

“It destabilizes security in the region and creates unnecessary tensions,” she said.

“We strongly condemn these actions and again call on North Korea to halt any further unlawful, destabilizing actions,” Harris said. “On behalf of the United States, I reaffirmed our ironclad commitment to our Indo-Pacific alliances.”

Her remarks at the wider APEC forum capped a week of high-level outreach from the US to Asia as Washington seeks to counter growing Chinese influence in the region, with President Joe Biden sending the message of US commitment to the region at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Cambodia and the Group of 20 Summit in Indonesia.

Many Asian countries began questioning US commitment to Asia after former President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which had been the centerpiece of former President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia.

The Biden administration has sought to regain confidence and capitalize on growing questions about the liabilities associated with Chinese investments in regional infrastructure that critics have labeled Beijing’s diplomacy as a “debt trap.”

Biden and Harris have also pointed to Washington’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which was launched earlier this year.

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David Rising contributed to this story.

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