RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The White House is facing some difficult times internationally. The way the withdrawal from Afghanistan is playing out has some allies questioning U.S. competence and resolve. Last night, the Biden administration tried to get the focus back on its top foreign policy objective - China. President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had a phone call, only their second since Biden took office. NPR China affairs correspondent John Ruwitch is with us on the line. Hi, John.
JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Hi, there.
MARTIN: What'd they talk about?
RUWITCH: Well, the conversation according to the White House was broad and strategic. They talked about areas where the U.S. and China have interests that converge and areas that values, interests and perspectives diverged, and there are a lot of those. The Chinese readout was pretty similar to the U.S. one. And interestingly, it struck a more conciliatory and sort of hopeful tone than state rhetoric has done in the past year. Relations are really bad now between China and the U.S. And Biden and Xi both talked about how the two countries have a responsibility to ensure that competition doesn't veer into conflict. But, you know, it's hard to know at this point just how much of this call will really help relations. I mean, it's the first call since February, which is a pretty long hiatus.
MARTIN: Right, for something that's so important. I understand the Biden administration says it asked for this phone call, right?
RUWITCH: Yeah, it did. Relations, as I said, have been pretty icy. The interactions that there have been to date have been frustrating to the U.S., according to a senior U.S. administration official. This person said Chinese officials were basically showing up to meetings to read out tough-sounding talking points. And now, that might be good for domestic propaganda in China, but really didn't amount to what the U.S. saw as engagement or diplomacy. So the idea for this call was to kind of reignite dialogue at the highest level, try to unstick things. Also, the Afghanistan withdrawal is still reverberating, right? Biden's poll numbers are down. So this is a way, really, to show that he's at the helm on this key foreign policy issue.
MARTIN: But is the issue that Xi Jinping doesn't want to engage as much as the U.S. would prefer?
RUWITCH: Yeah, that's what they were trying to probe with this. You know, they're not happy in Beijing with the Biden policy towards China. They didn't like Donald Trump, right? He launched a trade war. He then took a series of unprecedented steps near the end of his presidency that hardened U.S. policy towards China. They thought - Beijing hoped Biden would be different. So far, he hasn't rolled back many of Trump's big China policies. He's working with allies to try to get tough on China. And the U.S. mantra has been that the relationship will be competitive in some areas and cooperative in others. Chinese officials, though, aren't having it. I mean, they've said it's foolish for the U.S. to expect cooperation when they're doing things that Beijing sees as undermining China's interests, whether that's on technology trade or core issues like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.
MARTIN: And meanwhile the G-20 is coming up in October. Is Xi Jinping going to go?
RUWITCH: We don't know. It's a good question. You know, the big question here is whether this all trickles down and changes the way things work at lower levels.
MARTIN: Yeah. NPR China affairs correspondent, John Ruwitch. Thank you.
RUWITCH: Thank you.
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