A day after sparring at the 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue , high-level officials from the United States and China met in Luxembourg to discuss a range of regional and global issues, including hot-button topics that directly bear on their relationship. Both sides recognise the risks of great power rivalry getting out of hand and are aiming to improve the management of their strategic competition. The meeting in the small European country may set the stage for the first face-to-face summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping . In recent days there have been reports suggesting the two leaders are likely to soon hold a fresh round of virtual talks. Biden, Xi ‘will talk’ says US president, weighing action on tariffs Given the prevailing tense atmosphere, demand is high for such exchanges. Monday’s Luxembourg discussions between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese Communist Party Politburo member and State Councillor Yang Jiechi show how much importance both sides attach to the world’s most consequential bilateral ties. It was the fourth actual meeting between US-China officials in fifteen months and started with a May 18 phone call. Sullivan, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Yang, alongside Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, first met in Alaska in March last year. Previous Sullivan-Yang talks prefaced dialogue between Biden and Xi. A month after Sullivan and Yang met in Switzerland in October 2021, the leaders of the world’s top superpowers held a virtual conversation. They also had a video call in March this year, four days after a seven hour Sullivan-Yang meeting in Rome. So far, with the exception of Alaska, all physical meetings between the two high-ranking officials have taken place in Europe. Even under the disruptive watch of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump , similar scenes occurred. In February 2017, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bonn, Germany at the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Later that month, Tillerson also welcomed Yang to Washington. These meetings laid the groundwork for the Trump-Xi summit in Mar-a-Lago , Florida, in April the same year. Will Asean be able to handle a US recession on top of surging inflation? With Biden having made his debut Asian tour last month, travelling to long-time allies Japan and South Korea, where he also met other Quad leaders and launched a regional economic initiative, the ground is ready for a possible in-person meeting with his Chinese peer. Its significance cannot be understated as both sides head to potentially game-changing domestic political itineraries this fall – the Communist Party ’s 20th Congress and the US midterm elections. US-China talks at security summit give region ‘some comfort’, Singapore says As both leaders may use the occasion to project resolve and burnish their appeal among their constituencies, the agenda and optics are critical. Preparing for such a meeting will keep diplomats, security and economic officials from both camps busy in the coming months. The US readout of the Yang-Sullivan meeting in Luxembourg was brief and short on specifics but described the event as “candid, substantive, and productive”. The Chinese readout was longer, stating the key points made by Yang during the interaction. It was likewise billed as “candid, in-depth and constructive”. Both sides stressed the value of keeping communication channels open. Japan’s Kishida takes veiled swipe at China, vows to strengthen military This latest meeting between Sullivan and Yang comes hot on the heels of Asia’s premier security summit, where American and Chinese defence chiefs traded barbs. At the annual Shangri-La Dialogue hosted by Singapore – the first physical interaction between either side’s delegates since the start of the pandemic – US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, who spoke a day apart, outlined their clashing views on burning issues including the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea , war in Ukraine and competing visions for regional order. Beijing remains opposed to what it sees as unwanted US interference in domestic and regional affairs, arguing that Taiwan , Hong Kong, Tibet and local human rights issues are internal matters and that the South China Sea disputes can be best resolved directly with neighbouring claimants. Wei called out the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy as an “attempt to build an exclusive small group” that “targets one specific country,” adding that such an approach “creates conflict and confrontation” as it aims to “contain and encircle others”. Washington, on the other hand, railed against unilateral attempts to change the status quo through intimidation and coercion in flashpoints like the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Austin also underscored the challenges posed by Chinese activities such as intensive fishing in the exclusive economic zones of its coastal neighbours and so-called grey zone tactics – aggressive actions of its maritime militias, sometimes in conjunction with its coastguard, that are below the threshold of armed attack and upset normal marine economic activities and routine resupply missions. Austin pointed to close, unsafe sea and air encounters in the South China Sea as well. The US contends that such behaviour undermines regional stability and established maritime rules. Deep mistrust persists, especially in relation to Taiwan. Yang pointed out on Monday that the “Taiwan question concerns the political foundation of China-US relations, and if it is not handled properly, it will have a subversive impact”. Beijing suspects US intentions, arguing that Washington uses the Taiwan ‘card’ to keep China in check and uses its domestic law – the Taiwan Relations Act – to justify intrusion into another country’s sovereign affairs. Biden’s remarks in recent months that the US will intervene militarily in the East Asian hotspot should the mainland attack the island – seen as a sea change from a long-standing position of strategic ambiguity to clarity – has only added fuel to the fire. Austin, on the other hand, stressed in Singapore that the US is simply adjusting to Beijing’s “provocative and destabilising military activity near Taiwan”, including a record number of sorties. Singapore’s Lee cautions US against ‘everyone but China’ stance in Asia Yet, despite the heated speeches in Singapore, both sides are taking steps to reassure the other and continue to find confluence on areas of overlapping interest, including the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. In his meeting in Luxembourg with Sullivan, Yang reiterated Biden’s message to Xi that China attaches great importance to, notably that the US “does not seek a new Cold War with China,” “does not aim to change China’s system”, that “the revitalisation of its alliances is not targeted at China”, that it does not support “Taiwan independence” and that it “has no intention” of seeking conflict with China. Austin had echoed such assurances in Singapore, saying the US does not support Taiwan independence, but he was quick to qualify that the US does “stand firmly behind the principle that cross-strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means”. China reaches out to Middle East amid perception US has ‘overlooked’ region Wei, in response, had said that “peaceful reunification is the greatest wish of the Chinese people,” adding that China has “the utmost sincerity” and is “willing to make (the) greatest efforts to achieve that”. The Biden administration’s “compete, cooperate and confront” posture against China elicits Chinese resistance. At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Wei said “China opposes using competition to define the bilateral relations”. He said it would be “a historic and strategic mistake to insist on taking China as a threat and adversary or even an enemy”. Yang, in Luxembourg, echoed that “China firmly opposes the definition of China-US relations by competition”. “Big powers carry big responsibilities,” said Austin in Singapore, before noting that the US is committed to “fully open lines of communication with China’s defence leaders to ensure that we can avoid any miscalculations”. With so much at stake, building ‘crash barriers’ against conflict is vital.