Xi, Biden exchange warnings as Pelosi’s plans to visit Taiwan spark tensions

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden had a lengthy telephone conversation, officials said, in which the Beijing leader warned the United States against interfering with China’s relations with Taiwan and separating the world’s two largest economies.

During the unusually long three-hour call, there was no sign of progress on trade, technology or other issues, including Beijing’s opposition to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s possible visit to the island democracy that the mainland claims to be its territory.

Businessmen and economists warn that such changes, driven by China’s industrial policy and US restrictions on technology exports, could hurt the global economy by slowing innovation and increasing costs.

Meanwhile, Xi and Biden are considering a face-to-face meeting, according to a US official who declined to be named. Xi was invited to Indonesia in November for a meeting of the Group of 20 major economies, making it a potential place for a face-to-face meeting.

The Chinese government gave no indication that Xi and Biden discussed Pelosi’s possible plans to visit Taiwan, which the ruling Communist Party says is not qualified to conduct foreign relations. But Xi dismissed “interference from outside forces” that could prompt Taiwan to try to make its decades-long de facto independence permanent.

“The resolute defense of China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity is the firm will of more than 1.4 billion Chinese people,” the statement said. “Those who play with fire will perish by it.”

One China principle, but which government is responsible?

Xi’s rough language, which usually attempts to appear above political disputes and makes polite positive public comments, suggests that Chinese leaders may believe Washington has not understood the severity of previous warnings about Taiwan.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war ended in victory for the Communists on the mainland. They have no official relationship, but they are linked by billions of dollars of trade and investment. Both sides claim to be one country but disagree over which government has the right to national leadership.

A Defense Department spokesman said ahead of Thursday’s phone call that Washington “should not arrange Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.” He said the ruling party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, would take “strong measures to prevent any outside interference.”

Xi urged the United States to “abide by the One China principle,” the statement said, referring to Beijing’s position that the Chinese mainland and Taiwan are one country. The US, on the other hand, has a “one China policy” in which Washington takes no position on the issue, but wants it to be resolved peacefully.

“Both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to the same China,” the statement said.

Biden said in a statement that Washington does not support Taiwan independence.

Conflict over Pelosi’s visit

China’s fully state-controlled media coverage on Friday was limited to repeating government statements.

Pelosi has not yet confirmed if she will go to Taiwan, but if she does, the California Democrat will become the most senior elected US official to visit Taiwan since Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.

Beijing criticized Gingrich for saying the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked, but doing little in response to his three-hour visit to the island.

Since then, China’s position on Taiwan has strengthened as the mainland’s economy has become the second largest after the United States.

The ruling party has poured hundreds of billions of euros into the development of fighter jets and other high-tech weapons, including “carrier killer” missiles believed to be designed to thwart the US Navy’s defense of the island.

The conflict over a possible Pelosi visit is becoming more sensitive to Beijing in a year in which Xi, who took power in 2012, is expected to try to break with tradition and appoint himself to a third five-year term as party leader.

Dividing the economy can slow innovation and increase costs

Xi, who wants to be seen as a restorer of China’s historic role as a world leader, is promoting more assertive policies abroad. The PLA is sending more fighters and bombers into the Taiwan area in an attempt to intimidate the democratically elected government.

The United States has no official relationship with Taiwan, but has extensive commercial ties and informal political ties. Washington is required by federal law to ensure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Xi called for cooperation in reducing the risk of an economic downturn, coordinating macroeconomic policies, combating COVID-19 and “de-escalating regional hot spots,” the government said in a statement.

He also warned against decoupling or separating the US and Chinese economies for strategic reasons.

Businessmen and industry analysts warn that global industries could be split into separate markets with incompatible products due to China’s pressure on its own companies to develop its own technology standards and US restrictions on China’s access to technology that Washington considers a security risk. According to them, this can slow down innovation and increase costs.

“Attempts to disconnect or sever supply chains contrary to fundamental laws will not help stimulate the US economy,” the statement said. “They will only make the global economy more vulnerable.”