Biden speaks with China’s Xi as tensions over Taiwan mount


The two leaders agreed to make arrangements for a personal summit, their first as Xi opposes travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. And certain areas of cooperation, including climate change, were eliminated.

The matter was discussed in detail on Thursday in the two-hour and 17-minute phone call. Xi issued an ominous warning to Biden, according to the Chinese version of events.

“Public opinion must not be violated, and if you play with fire you will be burned. I hope the US can see this clearly,” he told Biden, according to China’s state news agency.

The White House’s report on the call was less specific.

On Taiwan, President Biden underlined that United States policies have not changed and the United States strongly opposes unilateral attempts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. according to an American reading.

A senior US government official called the Taiwan discussion “direct and fair”, but downplayed Xi’s warning and suggested it was standard for the Chinese leader to warn of the risks of “playing with fire”.

The call was Biden and Xi’s fifth call since February 2021. Beforehand, US officials said a range of topics — from tensions over Taiwan to economic competition to the war in Ukraine — were likely to arise.

But hopes for a substantial improvement in ties with Beijing were low. Instead, Biden’s aides hope that maintaining a personal relationship with Xi can at most avoid a miscalculation that could lead to a confrontation.

“This is the kind of relationship management President Biden believes strongly in, even with countries that you might have significant differences with,” National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby said this week.

As Thursday’s call drew to a close, the two leaders noted how much work they had created for their teams, including arranging the possible face-to-face meeting. They have yet to meet in person as presidential counterparts.

The opportunity for a summit could arise in November, when a series of summits will take place in Asia – including the Group of 20 in Bali, Indonesia, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bangkok, Thailand. People familiar with the matter said US officials want to organize such a meeting on the sidelines of one of the summits.

The planning for Biden’s phone call with Xi predated the fury over Pelosi’s proposed visit to Taipei. Neither side revealed whether Pelosi’s plans were specifically discussed.

Biden is also currently considering whether to lift certain Trump-era tariffs on China to reduce inflation, though White House officials said he hadn’t made a decision and suggested in advance that the topic wouldn’t be heavily in his best interest. to be. conversation with Xi.

Instead, China’s escalating aggression in the region — including over Taiwan and the South China Sea — is at the heart of the current tensions. US officials fear that misunderstandings without open lines of communication could turn into unintended conflict.

So does Beijing’s response to Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan.

Government officials have worked quietly over the past week to convince the Speaker of the House of the risks inherent in visiting the self-governing island. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday he had met Pelosi to give his “assessment of the security situation”.

Pelosi has not made any announcements about her plans for a trip, which have not yet been finalized.

“I never talk about my travels. It is a danger to me,” she said on Wednesday.

But even the unofficial report that the third in line to the US presidency was considering a visit to Taiwan sparked an outrageous response from Beijing, which sees visits by top US officials as a sign of diplomatic relations with the island.

“If the US insists on going its own way, the Chinese military will never stand idly by, and it will certainly take strong measures to thwart the interference of outside forces and separatists’ plans for ‘independence of Taiwan’, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said Tuesday in response to questions about Pelosi’s reported trip to Taipei.

The White House called those comments “unnecessary” and “useless,” saying the rhetoric only served to escalate tensions “in a completely unnecessary way.”

They also revealed that what US officials have said is a misunderstanding by Chinese officials about the significance of Pelosi’s potential visit. The officials said China could mistake Pelosi’s visit for an official government visit, as both she and Biden are Democrats. Government officials are concerned that China does not separate Pelosi much, if at all, from Biden.

That puts pressure on Biden’s conversation with Xi. Officials were wary of whether Pelosi’s visit would take place, or how much it would play a part in the conversation. But China’s apparent confusion over the differences between the White House and Congress could spark a degree of personal zest in the talks.

Government officials’ concerns about Pelosi’s journey are partly rooted in the timing. It would come at a particularly tense time, with the upcoming Chinese Communist Party Congress, in which Xi is expected to seek an unprecedented third term, putting pressure on Beijing’s leadership to show strength. Chinese party officials are expected to begin laying the groundwork for that conference in the coming weeks.

With China recently reporting its worst economic performance in two years, Xi finds himself in a politically sensitive situation ahead of the important meeting.

Biden and Xi spent many hours in each other’s company when each was their country’s vice president, traveling through China and the United States to bond.

Biden last spoke with Xi in March, when he tried to convince the Chinese leader not to support Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. Officials have been closely monitoring Beijing’s response to the invasion, hoping that the largely unified Western response — including a scathing series of economic sanctions and billions of dollars in arms shipments — will be enlightening as China considers its actions against Taiwan.

US officials believe there is a small risk that China could make a miscalculation in responding to a potential visit to Pelosi. Biden administration officials are concerned that China could attempt to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan ahead of a possible visit as an attempt to end the trip, potentially further escalating tensions in the region, a spokesperson said. US official to CNN.

That remains a slim possibility, officials said. More likely, they say, is the possibility that China will further ramp up flights to Taiwan’s self-declared air defense zone, which could spark renewed discussions about possible responses from Taiwan and the US, the US official added. They did not specify what those possible answers would entail.

CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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