Taiwan policy looms large in lengthy Biden-Xi phone call
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping are exploring meeting in person, a senior administration official said after the leaders spent more than two hours on Thursday talking through the future of their complicated relationship, with tension over Taiwan once again emerging as a flashpoint.
The official declined to be identified to talk about the private conversation.
Biden conducted the telephone call from the Oval Office, where he was joined by top aides, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
When Biden was vice president, he spent long hours with Xi in the United States and China. However, they have not met in person since Biden became president in January 2021.
A recurring strain is Taiwan, which has governed itself for decades but China asserts as part of its territory, a claim emphasized by Xi on Thursday.
“Those who play with fire will perish by it,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this.”
The White House released its own description of the conversation about Taiwan, saying that Biden “underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
The goal of the call was to “responsibly manage our differences and work together where our interests align,” the White House said.
As usual, China left no doubt that it blames the U.S. for the deteriorating relationship between the two countries.
“President Xi underscored that to approach and define China-US relations in terms of strategic competition and view China as the primary rival and the most serious long-term challenge would be misperceiving China-U.S. relations and misreading China’s development, and would mislead the people of the two countries and the international community,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Differing perspectives on global health, economic policy and human rights have long tested the relationship — with China’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine adding further strain.
The latest pressure point has been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan, which has a democratic government and receives informal defensive support from the U.S., but which China considers part of its territory. Beijing has said it would view such a trip as a provocation, a threat U.S. officials are taking with heightened seriousness in light of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
“If the U.S. insists on going its own way and challenging China’s bottom line, it will surely be met with forceful responses,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for
China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters earlier this week. “All ensuing consequences shall be borne by the U.S.”
Biden last week told reporters that U.S. military officials believed it was “not a good idea” for Pelosi, D-Calif., to visit the island at the moment.
John Kirby, a U.S. national security spokesman, said Wednesday that it was important for Biden and Xi to regularly touch base.
“The president wants to make sure that the lines of communication with President Xi remain open because they need to,” Kirby told reporters at a White House briefing.
“This is one of the most consequential bilateral relationships in the world today, with ramifications well beyond both individual countries,” Kirby said.
Biden has moved to shift U.S. reliance off Chinese manufacturing, including final congressional approval Thursday of legislation to encourage semiconductor companies to build more high-tech plants in the U.S.
He also wants to marshal global democracies to support infrastructure investments in low- and middle-income nations as an alternative to China’s aims to boost trade with other global markets.