Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to warn US President Joe Biden to "take a step back" from the flashpoint area of Taiwan in the pair’s most significant meeting to date.
The online talks on Monday evening come as Beijing strikes an increasingly aggressive tone over the island, leading to fears of invasion.
Mr Xi will tell his US counterpart that Washington must back away from Taiwan “in order to reduce the risk of a strategic collision between China and the US,” according to Chinese state media editorials in the hours before the meeting.
“The Taiwan question is the ultimate red line of China,” said the Global Times, a Communist Party mouthpiece.
The editorial goes on to accuse the US of “promoting ‘Taiwan secession’” as its “explicit goal.”
Taiwan is an island of more than 23 million with its own democratically-elected government, military, foreign policy, currency and borders. But China has long considered Taiwan a runaway province, vowing to “reunify” with the island using force if necessary.
China has provoked Taiwan sending a record number of planes into the island’s air defence zone in recent months.
Only last week Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, voiced his concern over Beijing’s aggressive posture.
According to senior Biden administration officials, the meeting, which is expected to last several hours, is intended to build “common-sense guardrails” to avoid misunderstandings between Beijing and Washington.
US sources admitted that Washington and Beijing remained in “intense competition” in various areas.
The purpose of the summit, according to a source on the US side, is to manage that competition and stop it escalating into conflict.
Washington signaled that Mr Biden will be “very direct in confronting China over areas of dispute including human rights and long-running complaints that Beijing’s subsidies amount to unfair competition.”
However, the issue of tariffs is not expected to feature in the talks.
This will be the leaders’ first face-to-face meeting, albeit via computer link, since Mr Biden entered the Oval Office, although the two men have spoken via telephone.
Expectations for the meeting in Washington appear modest, with officials indicating they are not expecting what one described as “deliverables” to emerge from the discussions.
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Washington also has voiced hopes that the two countries will continue to co-operate in tackling climate change, building on the joint declaration they signed at the COP26 summit in Glasgow last week.
Relations between the two countries reached an all-time low under Donald Trump, in part due to his flamboyant and aggressive rhetoric over trade and the coronavirus pandemic – dubbed the “Kung Flu” and “Chinese virus” by the former president.
Administration sources insisted that Mr Biden, whose poll ratings have plummeted, will enter the meeting in a “position of strength” after Congress finally passed his major infrastructure bill last week.