Biden speaks to Xi Jinping as tensions rise over Taiwan

The issue was discussed at length during a two-hour, 17-minute phone call on Thursday. According to the Chinese version of events, Xi gave Biden an ominous warning.

“Public opinion should not be violated, and if you play with fire, you will get burned. I hope the American side understands this clearly,” he told Biden, China’s state news agency reported.

The White House version of the call was less specific.

“On Taiwan, President Biden emphasized 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,” the US said in a statement.

This phone call was the fifth conversation between Biden and Xi since February 2021. U.S. officials have said in advance that a range of topics could come up, from tensions over Taiwan to economic competition and war in Ukraine.

But there was little hope for a significant improvement in relations with Beijing. Instead, Biden aides hope that maintaining a personal connection with Xi will, at best, avoid a miscalculation that could lead to a confrontation.

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

Biden’s scheduling of a phone call with Xi preceded a buzz over a proposed Taipei visit by Pelosi that had been discussed for weeks. Biden is also now weighing whether to lift some Trump-era tariffs on China to bring down inflation, though White House officials said he hasn’t made a decision yet and suggested the topic won’t weigh heavily on his conversation with Xi. . .

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

Including how Beijing will react to Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan.

Last week, administration officials quietly worked to reassure the Speaker of the House of the risks involved in visiting the self-governing island. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday he spoke with Pelosi to give his “assessment of the security situation.”

Pelosi has not made any announcements about her travel plans yet to be finalized.

“I never talk about my travels. It’s dangerous for me,” she said on Wednesday.

However, even unofficial information that the third in line for the US presidency is considering a visit to Taiwan has provoked a sweeping reaction from Beijing, which considers visits by high-ranking US officials a sign of diplomatic relations with the island.

“If the United States insists on its own, the Chinese military will never sit idly by and will definitely take decisive action to prevent the interference of any external forces and separatist plans for “Taiwan independence”, resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity. ” Defense Department spokesman Tang Kefei said Tuesday when answering questions about Pelosi’s trip to Taipei.

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

They also exposed what US officials called Chinese officials’ misunderstanding of the significance of a potential Pelosi visit. Officials said China could confuse Pelosi’s visit with an official administration visit, as both she and Biden are Democrats. Administration officials are concerned that China does not separate Pelosi much from Biden, if at all.

This adds pressure to Biden’s conversation with Xi. Officials were wary of whether Pelosi’s visit would come up and how much it would affect the conversation. But China’s apparent confusion over disagreements between the White House and Congress could bring a certain amount of animosity to the talks.

Administration officials’ concerns about Pelosi’s trip stem in part from the timing of the trip. It comes at a particularly tense moment when the upcoming Chinese Communist Party Congress takes place, during which Xi is expected to seek an unprecedented third term by pressuring the leadership in Beijing to show strength. Chinese party officials are expected to begin laying the groundwork for this conference in the coming weeks.

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

Biden and Xi spent many hours in each other’s company as they each served as their country’s vice president, traveling through China and the United States to connect. However, they have yet to meet face-to-face as presidential counterparts as Xi largely avoids travel during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This may change in November, when a series of summits in Asia, including the Group of 20 summit in Bali and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bangkok, provide an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting. People familiar with the matter said that US officials want to organize such a meeting on the sidelines of one of the summits.

Biden last spoke to Xi in March when he tried to convince the Chinese leader not to support Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine. Officials are closely watching how Beijing reacts to the invasion, hoping that the West’s largely cohesive response – including a set of tough economic sanctions and billions of dollars in arms shipments – will shed light on how China is mulling its actions against China. Taiwan.

US officials believe there is little risk that China will miscalculate in response to a possible visit by Pelosi. Biden administration officials are concerned that China may attempt to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan ahead of a possible visit to disrupt the trip, which could further heighten tensions in the region, a US official told CNN.

This remains an unlikely possibility, officials say. It is more likely that China will step up flights further into Taiwan’s self-declared air defense zone, they said, which could spark renewed discussions about a possible response from Taiwan and the US, the US official added. They did not elaborate on what these possible responses would entail.

Arlette Saenz and Betsy Klein of CNN contributed to this report.

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