U.S. President Joe Biden's top security adviser and China's highest-ranking diplomat held hours of "candid, substantive and constructive" talks over the weekend in Malta, their governments said Sunday, amid lingering tensions between them.

The White House said that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Wang Yi, a Chinese Communist Party Politburo member in charge of foreign affairs, agreed to "maintain this strategic channel of communication and to pursue additional high-level engagement and consultations in key areas" between the two countries "in the coming months."

Without going into detail, the White House said in a statement the representatives discussed major issues including those linked to the U.S.-China bilateral relationship, regional security affairs and Russia's war against Ukraine.

Photo taken from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website shows U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (L) and China's highest-ranking diplomat Wang Yi shake hands in Malta on Sept. 17, 2023. (Kyodo) 


It added that Sullivan noted "the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," where China has been stepping up military pressure, claiming that the self-ruled island is part of its territory.

China's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said Wang warned the Taiwan question is "the first red line that must not be crossed" in their relationship.

A senior Biden administration official said Sullivan and Wang, who doubles as foreign minister, spent about 12 hours together over two days from Saturday in the Mediterranean island nation.

Their discussions took place as Biden and other world leaders started gathering in New York for high-level meetings during the annual U.N. General Assembly.

Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping, who skipped the recent Group of 20 summit in India, nor Wang will take part in the forthcoming meetings, with China saying the country will be represented by Vice President Han Zheng, who holds a mostly ceremonial role.

The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with the Chinese vice president in New York on Monday afternoon.

Sullivan's direct contact with Wang, the first since May in Vienna, also came as Biden still hopes to arrange a one-on-one meeting with Xi by the end of this year, despite disagreements over numerous political and economic issues.

The U.S. official, who briefed reporters on the talks on condition of anonymity, said Washington has nothing to announce when asked about the prospects of Biden bilaterally meeting with Xi in November on the sidelines of this year's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco.

The official also said Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu's notable lack of public appearances did not come up during Sullivan's discussions with Wang.

Since the Vienna meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other Cabinet members visited Beijing and agreed with their respective counterparts to facilitate dialogue, but the two countries have not made tangible progress in defusing tensions.

Also, high-level military-to-military communication channels remain closed between the two countries following a visit in August last year by then House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.

The official, however, said during the briefing there have been some "small" or "limited" indications that the channels may begin to be gradually restored.