Washington and Beijing should work out their different issues in a face-to-face fashion, similar to the rounds of trade talks , according to American businessman John Thornton, who for decades has been a key player in US-China back-door diplomacy. Thornton, chairman of the board of trustees at the Brookings Institution, said president-elect Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping should also get together as soon as possible. “They should meet early in the new American administration in person, for a personal reconnecting,” Thornton said at a webinar hosted by the Centre for China and Globalisation, a Beijing based-think tank, on Wednesday. “They should also assign very high-level working teams to create a road map for all serious issues – the sequence of the issues, the responsibility for them and the time frame they should be addressed,” he said, adding that the teams should meet regularly in person, as China’s Vice-Premier Liu He and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had done while hammering out a trade deal. Thornton made his remarks as most world leaders rushed in to congratulate Biden on his election victory. Xi had not yet sent his congratulations to the next US president. Thornton, a former co-president of Goldman Sachs, is among the best-connected of US business leaders in China. He has met Xi several times and was among the people thanked by President Donald Trump in January at the signing of the phase one trade deal between Washington and Beijing. While acknowledging that the general sentiment towards China in the US had changed, Thornton argued that a Liu He-Lighthizer model had a good chance of turning things around. “The sheer existence of such a process will be reassuring and stabilising to both countries and the world and will improve the outcomes,” he said. US-China trade channels had remained open and effective amid other sources of tension, he said. The coronavirus pandemic would be a good starting point for Biden to approach China relations, Thornton said, adding that the current lack of cooperation on the issue did not make sense, considering how closely the two countries had worked on the financial crisis of 2008. China aims to redo Trump’s trade deal under Biden, advisers say The Biden campaign has sent mixed signals on its China policies, pledging to get tough with Beijing but also laying out key areas for cooperation, including climate change, global health and nuclear non-proliferation. Thornton said Biden and his diplomatic team were the right people to deal with US-China relations. “Trust and mutual respect must be built at the top,” he said. “This should not be hard. [Biden and Xi] have spent more time together than any incoming US president spending time with a Chinese sitting president.” Biden, who was known as a unifier and problem solver, had many qualities that would qualify his work on foreign relations, including ties with China, Thornton said. “The foreign policy professionals in the Biden administration are the highest quality, they are sensible, centrist, very process-oriented, very deep thinking and long-term thinking,” he said. “There’s every reason to think if things are done in a professional way, in relatively short order, there’ll be a constructive engagement acknowledging the underlying reality is difficult.” Biden has not yet announced his cabinet picks but Susan Rice, former national security adviser under Obama, was reportedly a front runner for secretary of state. Rice is considered a pro-engagement moderate by analysts in Beijing.