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Xi says China ready to work with US as Biden meeting planned for next week, source says

FILE - In this April 30, 2019, file photo, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a commemoration ahead of the 100th anniversary of the May 4 Movement at the Great Hall of the People In Beijing. Regarded as China's most powerful leader in a generation, Xi took the opportunity to amend the constitution and remove presidential term limits, making him president-for-life if he so chooses. While the party is believed to be rife with power struggles, Xi's ongoing anti-corruption campaign and the threat of heavy prison sentences keep his opponents in check. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

(CNN) — China is ready to manage differences with the United States, the country’s leader Xi Jinping said on Tuesday, ahead of a planned virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden.

The meeting, the first since Biden became President earlier this year, will be held as early as next week, a source familiar with its planning told CNN. However, specific details and a firm date have not been laid out.

News of the meeting arrangement was first reported by Bloomberg.

It comes as Xi hinted at a slight warming of relations with the US, according to a statement published on the website of the Chinese embassy to the US on Tuesday.

In the letter, Xi said China is willing to “enhance exchanges and cooperation across the board” with the US and bring relations between the two world powers back on the right track.

The letter was read by China’s ambassador to the US Qin Gang, at a dinner of the National Committee on US-China Relations in Washington on Tuesday.

US officials revealed last month that they had reached an agreement in principle with China to hold a virtual meeting between Biden and Xi before the end of the year, as part of an effort to ensure stability in one of the world’s most consequential and fraught relationships.

That tentative agreement was the result of an extended, six-hour meeting between Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi in Switzerland, just days after Beijing sent record-breaking numebrs of war planes into Taiwan’s defense zone.

Victor Shih, an expert on elite Chinese politics at the University of California, San Diego, said the meeting is a positive development for bilateral relations.

“I think the bilateral meeting next week is a preliminary sign that the relationship between the US and China is getting back on a more normal track — than (what) had been the case in the later Trump years,” Shih told CNN.

The meeting is also likely to motivate officials, especially on the Chinese side — from the Foreign Ministry to the Commerce ministry — to once again focus their energy on US-China relationship and think of ways to improve it, Shih added.

The last time Biden and Xi spoke was in September, in a phone call that lasted roughly 90 minutes.

“The two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge,” said a readout of the call released by the White House.

“They agreed to engage on both sets of issues openly and straightforwardly. This discussion, as President Biden made clear, was part of the United States’ ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” the statement added.

A senior administration official described the tone of the call as “respectful” and “familiar and candid.”

The two leaders also spoke for two hours in February — their first phone call since Biden took office.

“It was a good conversation, I know him well, we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years I was vice president. But, you know, if we don’t get moving, they’re going to eat our lunch,” Biden said at the time, outlining China’s efforts to invest in rail and other transportation.

Xi hasn’t left China in 21 months, following moves to tighten the country’s borders in response to the pandemic. He skipped the G20 summit in late October, as well as the COP26 climate conference in Scotland this month.

Last week, Biden criticized Xi for not showing up at COP26, saying he had made a ‘big mistake.”

Xi’s absence on the global stage has been noted among world leaders and, aside from wanting to focus on internal problems such as eliminating Covid-19, signals a possible retreat from global cooperation. China’s relations with the US and other Western nations are at their lowest in decades — a point not lost on Biden.

“The fact that China, trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader — not showing up? Come on,” Biden said in Glasgow.

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