Biden-Xi virtual meeting planned for as soon as next week -source

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo

WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) - A virtual meeting planned between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be held as soon as next week, a person briefed on the matter told Reuters.

Spokespersons for the White House and the Chinese embassy in Washington declined to confirm whether the meeting would take place next week.

Combative U.S. diplomatic exchanges with China early in the Biden administration unnerved allies, and U.S. officials believe direct engagement with Xi is the best way to prevent the relationship between the world's two biggest economies from spiraling toward conflict.

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The two sides said they had reached an agreement in principle to hold the virtual meeting between Biden and Xi before year-end after talks in the Swiss city of Zurich last month between U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi.

Sources told Reuters last month that, given China's domestic COVID-19 restrictions and Xi's reluctance to travel, Washington was aiming for a video conference call in November.

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean Pierre was asked at a briefing on Monday about the timing of the virtual meeting and reiterated there was an agreement in principle for Biden and Xi to hold it before the end of the year.

She said working-level discussions were underway to confirm details, but declined to offer specifics.

Stakes for the meeting are high – Washington and Beijing have been sparring on issues from the origins of the pandemic to China's expanding nuclear arsenal – but Biden's team has so far set low expectations for specific outcomes.

Experts believe the two sides may work toward an agreement to relax curbs on visas for each other's journalists and have also said a deal to reopen consulates in Chengdu and Houston shuttered in a diplomatic dispute in 2020 could help improve the mood.

The Biden administration has said, however, that a deal on the consulates was not being discussed ahead of the meeting.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said last week that the planned meeting was part of U.S. efforts to responsibly manage the competition with China and not about seeking specific deliverables.

(This story refiles to fix garble in slug for media clients, add bylines, trim headline.)

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Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina; Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis

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