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Did Xi Jinping reject Biden’s offer for a face-to-face meeting?

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U.S. President Joe Biden(L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping(R) (File Photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday denied a media report that Chinese President Xi Jinping had rejected his offer for a face-to-face summit to break the impasse in US-China relations.

The Financial Times cited five officials briefed on a 90-minute call between the two leaders last week as saying Xi did not take Biden up on the offer and instead insisted that Washington adopt a less critical stand towards Beijing.

"It's not true," Biden said when asked by journalists if he was disappointed that Xi was not keen to meet him.

Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a statement earlier on Tuesday that the report was "not an accurate portrayal of the call. Period."

"As we’ve said, the Presidents discussed the importance of being able to have private discussions between the two leaders, and we’re going to respect that," the statement added.

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Reuters news agency also reported that a source who was among those briefed on the call confirmed The Financial Times report was accurate.

"Xi apparently intimated that the tone and atmosphere of the relationship needed to be improved first," the source told Reuters.

The Financial Times quoted one of its sources as saying Biden had floated the summit as one of several possibilities for follow-on engagement with Xi, and he had not expected an immediate response.

It cited one U.S. official as saying that while Xi did not engage with the idea of a summit, the White House believed that was partly due to concerns about COVID-19.

The G20 summit in Italy in October has been talked about as a possible venue for a face-to-face meeting, but Xi has not left China since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year when he went to Indonesia.

The call between Biden and Xi was their first in seven months and they discussed the need to ensure that competition between the world's two largest economies does not veer into conflict.

A U.S. official briefing before the conversation called it a test of whether direct top-level engagement could end what had become a stalemate in ties, which are at the worst level in decades.

The White House said afterward it was intended to keep channels of communication open, but it has announced no plans for follow-on engagements.

Chinese state media said Xi had told Biden that U.S. policy on China imposed "serious difficulties" on relations, but added that both sides agreed to maintain frequent contact and ask working-level teams to step up communications.

Biden has followed his predecessor Donald Trump’s tough line on China and continued with blacklisting Chinese companies. He has criticised the human rights abuse of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The US has also accused China of bullying its neighbours in the South China Sea.