(Adds White House statement on China meeting in paragraph 6)
By Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt
HANOI, Sept 10 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden said on Sunday he had held his highest-level talks with Chinese leaders in months, adding that Beijing’s economic wobbles would not lead him to invade Taiwan traps.
Biden said he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s No. 2, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, at the annual G20 summit in New Delhi. The talks marked the highest-level meeting between the two powers in nearly 10 months since Biden and Xi spoke at the G20 in Indonesia last year.
Li, who became prime minister in March, attended the meeting of world leaders in Xi’s place. The two leaders were not expected to hold talks at the G20, but unscripted meetings at summits are common.
“My team, my staff are still meeting with President Xi’s people and his Cabinet,” Biden told reporters. “I met his number 2 person in India today.”
He added: “We talked about stability” and the southern hemisphere. “It wasn’t confrontational at all.”
The White House said Sunday that Biden met with a Chinese leader at the summit.
The two superpowers have tried to thaw frosty relations this year after a row over a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over US territory, as fears of an economic slowdown have gripped Beijing.
At a press conference in Vietnam, Biden praised the US economy as the “strongest” in the world. He told reporters that China’s growth is slowing due to a weak global economy and Chinese policies, but did not specify which policies.
Biden called the economic situation in China a “crisis,” citing problems in the real estate sector and high youth unemployment.
“One of the key economic tenets of his plan isn’t working at all right now,” Biden said of Xi, without elaborating. “I’m not happy about that, but it doesn’t work.”
Biden added: “He has his hands full right now.”
The Democratic president is heading into a 2024 reelection campaign in which his own handling of the economy and inflation has become a central concern for voters.
The US economy grew by 2.1% on an annual basis last quarter. Central bankers have sharply raised interest rates to bring inflation back to target levels.
August trade data showed that both Chinese exports and imports narrowed their declines, along with other indicators showing a possible stabilization of the economic downturn as policymakers try to boost demand and fend off deflation.
Li has said China should meet its 2023 growth target of around 5%, but some analysts think a worsening real estate slump, weak consumer spending and falling credit growth could mean lower growth.
Biden has tried to keep communications open with China to lower the temperature in international frictions, including over Taiwan, the self-governing island claimed by China.
“I don’t think this will lead to China invading Taiwan,” Biden said of the country’s economic problems. “In fact, the opposite probably doesn’t have the same capacity as before.”
He described the United States as a Pacific power that had no intention of withdrawing from the region.
Biden also said that recent moves by Chinese officials to restrict the use of US-designed Apple iPhones by state employees amounted to attempts to change “some of the rules of the game” on trade.
“I am sincere about improving the relationship,” he said.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Hanoi and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Heather Timmons and Cynthia Osterman)