US and China have agreed to resume military-to-military communications in an effort to ease rising tensions, President Joe Biden says.
“We’re back to direct, open, clear communications,” he said following a rare meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping in California on Wednesday.
It was their first face-to-face conversation in over a year.
However, there were signs of tension between the two, with Mr Biden repeating his belief that Mr Xi is a tyrant.
The remarks were later criticized by China’s foreign ministry, but they do not appear to have tarnished what both sides are characterizing as a mainly fruitful meeting.
Mr. Biden also stated that both presidents have agreed to create direct communication channels with one another.
At a news conference following the summit, which took place at a historic country estate near San Francisco, Mr Biden said a lack of communication was “how accidents happen” and added that both presidents could now “pick up the phone and be directly heard immediately”.
China severed military-to-military communications last year after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. Beijing views self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, and has threatened to annex it by force if necessary.
Mr Biden said that, while many disagreements remained between the pair, Mr Xi had “just been straight”. He said the talks were “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had”.
Speaking later at a dinner with US business leaders, Mr Xi spoke openly about wanting to pursue better relations with the US.
He said he and President Biden agreed to continue on a path of diplomacy and co-operation.
“The door of China-US relations cannot be closed again now that’s open,” he said. “We need to build more bridges and pave more roads between each other.”
But in a sign of how difficult relations still are, Mr Biden, as he was exiting the stage, responded to a reporter’s question by saying he considered Mr Xi a dictator.
“He’s a dictator in the sense that he is a guy who runs a country… based on a form of government that is totally different from ours,” he said. When Mr Biden made a similar comment in June, Chinese officials reacted angrily and described it as “extremely absurd and irresponsible”.
On Thursday, China’s foreign ministry condemned Mr Biden’s remark, saying the description was “extremely wrong” and “irresponsible political manipulation”.
It was a sour note in what is seen as an overall positive meeting between the two leaders.
The “dictator” remark was noticeably absent in state news agency Xinhua’s readout of the meeting. The readout – which can sometimes be an indication of how good or bad the Chinese government perceives relations to be – featured talk of substantial progress in bilateral ties.