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The Chinese flag is seen outside the China Consulate General building in Houston, Texas, on July 22, 2020.
The Chinese flag is seen outside the China Consulate General building in Houston, Texas, on July 22, 2020. (Scott Dalton/Bloomberg)

The U.S. and China are not considering reopening shuttered consulates in each country, the White House said Friday, after a report that said the move was under consideration as part of an upcoming virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

“The meeting is part of our ongoing efforts to responsibly manage the competition between our countries, not about seeking specific deliverables,” Dean Lieberman, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said in a statement.

It was issued after a report in Politico that consulate reopenings were likely to be announced, a move that would be one of the biggest steps yet to repair fractured ties between the global powers. Politico’s report cited sources it did not identify. The U.S. is also seeking to make progress on trade and climate issues, as well as start a bilateral nuclear weapons dialogue -- something Beijing has resisted.

The U.S. flatly denied any such pending announcement. “This is false. Reporting on reopening consulates is inaccurate. No such thing is even being considered or discussed,” the NSC spokesman said. “In advance of the meeting, we’ve been discussing a number of agenda items, and I can assure you that reopening consulates has not been part of that discussion.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin responded to questions about the Politico report by saying “many incidents unilaterally provoked by the previous U.S. administration gravely undermined China-U.S. relations.”

“We hope the U.S. will redress its mistakes and work in the same direction with China to bring bilateral relations back on the right track,” Wang added at the regular press briefing Friday in Beijing. Wang said he had no new information on plans for a meeting between Xi and Biden.

The Pentagon warned Wednesday that China is expanding its nuclear weapons capabilities more rapidly than previously believed, a development that comes after the U.S.’s top uniformed military officer, General Mark Milley, said China’s test of hypersonic systems was close to a “Sputnik moment” for America.

A group of four Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Biden urging him to make nuclear risk reduction measures with China a top priority in his meeting with Xi, which has yet to be scheduled. China, which resisted joining U.S.-Russia arms control discussions last year, sees such moves as “dragging” China into “unfair arms talks” to contain China and justify American moves to strengthen its nuclear capability, the Communist Party-backed Global Times said in a report Friday.

Still, overall U.S.-China exchanges have increased after relations hit rock bottom in the final year of Donald Trump’s presidency, as he poured pressure on Beijing after the pandemic hit during his re-election campaign.

In July 2020, Washington told China to shutter its consulate in Houston, prompting Beijing to retaliate with an order for a U.S. diplomatic facility in the southwestern city of Chengdu to close. The Trump administration said the move was necessary because China directed criminal and covert activity to steal trade secrets and carry out malign influence operations across the U.S., though it never provided evidence of that.

The two nations also traded visa restrictions on students and journalists during Trump’s time in office.

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