President Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, when they discussed competing national interests — but didn’t get around to discussing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a readout from the White House.

The US administration said the leaders of the world’s two preeminent global powers “had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge.

“They agreed to engage on both sets of issues openly and straightforwardly,” the White House statement went on. The readout later added that Biden “underscored the United States’ enduring interest in peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world and the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both nations to “ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”

The call was the second between Biden and Xi since the American president took office in January, but the first since the US intelligence community submitted its report to Biden following a 90-day review of evidence about the origins of COVID-19.

The Beijing government has angrily denied the theory that the virus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, seen here.HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

That review was inconclusive on the question of whether the virus jumped from animals to humans or escaped from a research facility in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic originated. While the Beijing government has angrily denied the so-called “lab leak” theory, it has refused to allow international health officials to conduct a thorough probe on Chinese soil.

In their first call, which took place in February, the White House reported that Biden and Xi “exchanged views on countering the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Thursday’s call took place on the same day Biden announced far-reaching COVID-19 vaccination rules for federal workers and private companies alike, saying at one point that “this is not about freedom, or personal choice.” The US continues to grapple with the contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, which has led to spikes in hospitalizations and deaths over the course of the summer.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) meets with Chinese officials in March.Frederic J. Brown/Pool via AP, File

Ahead of the call, a senior administration official told the Associated Press the White House has been unsatisfied with the results of early engagements with Beijing — including a tirade directed at Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan by Chinese officials during a sitdown in Alaska this past March.

The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the administration was hopeful that Xi hearing directly from Biden could prove beneficial.

The White House official said Biden made clear to Xi that he had no intention of moving away from his administration’s policy of pressing China on human rights, trade and other areas where it believes China is acting outside international norms.

Despite the tension between Washington and Beijing, Biden has expressed hope that his long-running working relationship with Xi — one that dates back to Biden’s tenure as vice president — could pay dividends in the two nations cooperating on certain issues, like climate change and North Korea’s nuclear program.

A White House official said Biden made clear to Xi that he had no intention of moving away from his administration’s policy of pressing China on human rights.EPA/SHAWN THEW

With Post wires



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