President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed to schedule their first face-to-face summit during a sometimes tense phone conversation Thursday, when Xi warned the United States not to “play with fire” on Taiwan.
While this was their fifth phone or video call since Mr. Biden took office a year and a half ago, the summit will be their first face-to-face meeting as leaders. No details about the time and place were given.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi “discussed the value of a face-to-face meeting and agreed that their teams would contact to find a mutually acceptable time to do so,” a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
Both sides described the two-hour and 17-minute telephone conversation as an active exchange of views on numerous disputes between the world’s two largest economic powers.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Xi Jinping was blunt about US policy towards Taiwan, a democratic island with close ties to the US but which China considers part of its territory.
“Those who play with fire will end up getting burned,” Mr. Xi told Mr. Biden, echoing the language he used when they spoke last November. “I hope the American side fully understands this.”
Tensions over Taiwan are steadily rising amid fears that Xi may end up ordering an invasion to establish Beijing’s rule.
In the latest flashpoint, Chinese authorities are outraged by the unconfirmed plans of Biden ally and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit the island.
Although US officials frequently visit Taiwan, which is separated by a narrow strip of water from mainland China, Beijing sees Pelosi’s trip as a serious provocation. She is second in line for the presidency of the United States and, given her position, can travel in military vehicles.
Washington “will suffer the consequences” if the trip takes place, China warned on Wednesday.
During the call, Mr. Xi told Mr. Biden that “the position of the Chinese government and people on the Taiwan issue is consistent.”
“The firm will of over 1.4 billion Chinese is to firmly defend China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Concerns are growing over a possible visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. Source: AAP, AP / J. Scott Applewhite
In response, Mr. Biden assured Mr. Xi that the US policy known as “strategic ambiguity” had not changed—essentially in favor of the status quo in Taiwan, where Washington recognizes Chinese sovereignty but opposes any coercion, allowing the Taiwanese to maintain their clear rule.
“On Taiwan, President Biden stressed that 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 in the Taiwan Strait area,” the White House said in a statement.
No rate hikes
Mr. Biden is proud of his close relationship with Mr. Xi, which is rooted in the past, but growing distrust between the two countries is becoming increasingly difficult to hide.
US officials said Mr. Biden raised many sensitive issues, including China’s “genocide and forced labor practices” and its increasingly aggressive military stance in Asia.
The White House described Biden’s outreach as part of “an effort to maintain and deepen lines of communication” and “to responsibly manage our differences and work together where our interests coincide.”
According to the White House, Biden’s main hope is to set up “fences” for the two superpowers.
This is so that, although they sharply disagree on democracy and become increasingly rivals in the geopolitical arena, they can avoid open conflict.
However, the question of where to place the fences is a daunting task amid so many unresolved disputes, including the smoldering trade war that began under the presidency of Donald Trump.
One big issue that is still not fully resolved is the trade war launched under Donald Trump with 25 percent import duties on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods.
Despite speculation that Mr. Biden may soon cut some of these tariffs to try to ease the runaway inflation in the US economy, there was no movement on the matter at the time of his conversation with Mr. Xi.
“On the issue of tariffs, President Biden explained to Chairman Xi … the main concerns about China’s unfair practices that harm American workers and American families, but he did not discuss any possible steps he could take,” a US official told reporters.
“It would be wrong to believe that the decision on how to proceed was somehow waiting for this conversation.”