WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed to schedule their first in-person summit during a sometimes tense phone call Thursday, in which Xi warned the United States against “playing with fire” in Taiwan.
Although this is his fifth phone or video call since Biden took office a year and a half ago, the summit would be his first in-person meeting as leaders. No information was given on the time and place.
Biden and Xi “discussed the desirability of meeting in person and agreed to follow their teams to find a mutually agreeable time,” a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
Both sides described the two-hour, 17-minute call as a robust exchange on the many disputes between the world’s two largest economies.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said Xi had spoken harsh words about US policy toward Taiwan, a democratic island with close ties to the United States but which China considers part of its territory.
“Those who play with fire will end up getting burned,” Xi said when he told Biden, echoing the language he used when they spoke to each other last November. “I hope the US side will fully understand this.”
Tensions around Taiwan continue to escalate amid fears that Xi could possibly order an invasion to enforce rule in Beijing.
In the recent flash, Chinese officials are furious at unconfirmed plans by Biden ally and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit the island.
Although US officials travel frequently to Taiwan, which is separated from mainland China by a narrow strip of water, Beijing sees a trip by Pelosi as a major provocation. She is second in line for the US presidency and given her position, she is able to travel in military transports.
Washington “will bear the consequences” if the trip continues, China warned on Wednesday.
During the call, Xi reportedly told Biden that “the position of the Chinese government and the Chinese people on the Taiwan issue is consistent.”
“It is the firm will of more than 1.4 billion Chinese people to firmly uphold China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
In response, Biden Xi assured that the US policy, known as “strategic ambiguity”, remained unchanged – essentially supporting the status quo in Taiwan, with Washington recognizing Chinese sovereignty but resisting any enforcement and allowing the Taiwanese to maintain their own reign.
“Regarding Taiwan, President Biden emphasized that United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to alter the status quo or undermine peace and stability through the strait,” the White House said in a statement.
- No move on tariffs –
Biden is proud of a close relationship with Xi that has lasted for years, but it is becoming difficult to hide the growing mistrust between the two countries.
U.S. officials said Biden addressed a number of sensitive issues, including China’s “genocidal and forced labor practices” and its increasingly aggressive military stance across Asia.
The White House described Biden’s deployment as part of an “effort to maintain and deepen the lines of communication” and “to responsibly manage our differences and work together where our interests align.”
According to the White House, Biden’s best hope is to erect “guardrails” between the two superpowers.
This is to ensure that, even if they have strong disagreements on democracy and are increasingly rivals on the geopolitical stage, they can avoid open conflict.
However, where to place the railings is a challenge amid so many unresolved disputes, including a simmering trade war that began under President Donald Trump.
A big problem, still completely unresolved, is the trade war started under Donald Trump with 25% import duties on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods.
Despite speculation that Biden may soon ease some of those tariffs in an attempt to stem runaway inflation in the US economy, there was no movement on the issue in his talks with Xi.
“On the issue of tariffs, President Biden explained to President Xi … the main concerns about China’s unfair practices that hurt American workers and American families, but he did not discuss the measures that ‘he could take,’ the US official told reporters.
“It would be wrong to think that this conversation was somehow awaiting a decision on next steps.”
- Editor / additional report by AFP