The meeting came as questions swirl around the durability of Xi Jinping’s political and military leadership after a second Chinese minister disappears.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan held an unscheduled meeting with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, in Malta during the weekend, the White House said.
The meeting was part of the Biden administration’s efforts to reopen the high-level communication lines with China’s communist regime and manage bilateral ties that have deteriorated over a slew of issues, from trade to Taiwan.
In the past three months, President Joe Biden has dispatched four Cabinet-level officials to Beijing: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, climate envoy John Kerry, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
The White House called the recent meeting “candid, substantive, and constructive,” and China’s foreign ministry described the meeting as “frank, substantive, and constructive.”
Mr. Sullivan “noted the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” during the meeting, according to the White House statement.
The exchange came ahead of next week’s U.N. General Assembly gathering in New York. Although the U.S. State Department expressed hope that Mr. Blinken could sit down with Mr. Wang on the sidelines of the meeting or before the end of this year, China’s foreign ministry on Sept. 15 stated that they’re sending Vice Premier Han Zheng instead. Mr. Wang attended the high-level engagement last year.
The meeting also came as the apparent instability of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s cabinet is under scrutiny.
A little more than a week later, Mr. Qin vanished from the public eye.
On July 25, after a month-long unexplained absence, Mr. Qin lost his foreign minister’s job. No reason was provided in the brief official statement issued by state media.
Shortly after his dismissal, the foreign ministry erased nearly all of Mr. Qin’s profile and public engagements from its website. While some of the mentions reappeared on the ministry’s official page later, Mr. Qin, who was widely seen as Mr. Xi’s protégé, hasn’t made any public appearances since June.
As of Sept. 17, Gen. Li hadn’t been heard from publicly for 19 days. His most recent public appearance was on Aug. 29, when he addressed a security forum and held talks with visiting defense ministers from Ghana, Zambia, and several other African countries.
Chinese authorities remain tight-lipped on the situation.
When asked about the defense minister at the briefing on Sept. 11, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning replied, “I’m not aware of the situation you mentioned.”
During a press call on Sept. 17, a senior administration official told reporters that the two missing Chinese ministers “didn’t come up” during the two days of exchange.
The senior administration official said Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Wang spent about 12 hours together over the past two days.
It’s expected that these talks could help lay the groundwork for a meeting between President Biden and Mr. Xi during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco in November.
The senior administration official said there was no fresh information about the possibility of a Biden–Xi meeting in November at the APEC summit. But she stressed that it was a “constructive” discussion, with participants from both sides realizing the value of maintaining open lines of communication.
The meeting in Malta comes four months after Mr. Sullivan and his counterpart met secretly in Vienna. Mr. Sullivan underscored during the Malta meeting that the United States and China are in competition and that the United States doesn’t seek confrontation, the senior administration official told reporters.
Emel Akan and Eva Fu contributed to this report.