ZURICH/WASHINGTON: On Wednesday, a senior US administration official said that the president of the United States and China have concurred to hold a virtual meeting before the end of the year. The purpose of the virtual meeting is to improve communication between the two countries as there are rumors about a new cold war between US and China. The secret meeting at an airport hotel in the Swiss city of Zurich between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi was their first physical encounter since an unusually public and acrid airing of grievances in Alaska in March. According to US officials, the virtual meeting was a proposal from President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Meanwhile, the White House has said that Sullivan expressed reservations about contentious issues such as China’s actions in the South China Sea, as well as on human rights and Beijing’s stances on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan. However, both Beijing and Washington said that the talks, which lasted six hours, were productive and random. The US side said the tone was very different from Alaska. “We do have out of today’s conversation an agreement in principle to hold a virtual bilateral (summit) meeting before the end of the year,” the US official told reporters. When asked for further details, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We’re still working through what that would look like, when and of course the final details we don’t quite have them yet.” Early anticipation had been that the two might meet in person at the G20 summit in Italy in October, but Xi has not left China since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year. “Today’s conversation, broadly speaking, was a more meaningful and substantive engagement than we’ve had to date below the leader level,” the official said, adding that Washington hoped it would be a “model for future encounters.” “What we are trying to achieve is a steady state between the United States and China where we are able to compete intensely but to manage that competition responsibly,” the official said. China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Yang told Sullivan that a clash would damage both countries and the world. “The two sides agreed to take action … to strengthen strategic communication, properly manage differences, avoid conflict and confrontation,” the ministry statement said.