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Biden and Xi speak on phone for first time in seven months

United States President Joe Biden and China’s leader Xi Jinping have spoken by phone, ending a nearly seven month gap in direct communication between the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies.

The call was confirmed by the White House and China’s state media, which said the two men spoke early on Friday morning.

The discussion, which lasted about 90 minutes, focussed on finding a way forward for the US-China relationship, according to the White House.

The two talked about “areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values and perspectives diverge,” it said in a statement.Biden initiated the call with Xi, the second one between the two leaders since Biden took office in January. It comes at a moment when the two countries are grappling with growing differences over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, human rights and trade but share issues of mutual concern, including climate change.

Chinese state media reported the conversation was “candid” and “in-depth”, adding that President Xi said US policy on China imposes great difficulties on their relationship.

The Chinese report added that both sides agreed to maintain frequent contact.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian later told reporters the two leaders “agreed to maintain regular contacts through multiple means” and both would work to speed up diplomatic efforts “so as to create favorable conditions for the development of China-US relations”.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Benjamin Herscovitch, a senior fellow at Australian National University School of Regulation and Global Governance, said the call is a “positive step” ahead of several significant multilateral meetings, including the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, an upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting and the G20 summit in October.

“Even though it’s a good sign. The reality is that the US China relationship may remain deeply, deeply adversarial across a whole host of fronts,” he said.

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