Biden and Xi conduct marathon appeal amid rising tensions


WASHINGTON — President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping clashed over Taiwan in a marathon phone call Thursday, but neither side reported any concrete progress on the longstanding dispute or any of the other issues that have erupted between the two powers in recent months. .

In their first direct conversation in four months, Mr. Xi strongly warned the United States against intervening in the conflict with Taiwan while Mr. Biden sought to reassure his counterpart that his administration was not seeking to upset the current situation between the two sides and warned that neither should be.

“President Biden emphasized that United States policy has not changed, and the United States strongly opposes anyone who will alter the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he said. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. after the call, which lasted two hours and 17 minutes.

China’s Foreign Ministry called the conversation productive, but brushed off what it sees as US provocations without directly mentioning a possible trip to Taiwan by President Nancy Pelosi that has riled Beijing in recent days.

“Playing with fire will set you on fire,” the ministry said in a statement, echoing a metaphor it also used in November. He said Mr. Xi told Mr. Biden that China ‘firmly’ opposes ‘interference by outside forces’ on Taiwan’s status and that China ‘would never allow space for pro-independence forces of Taiwan in any form”.

“Public opinion cannot be violated,” the statement added, a reference to China’s position that Taiwan belonged to the government in Beijing. “I hope the US side can see this clearly.”

The call came as Ms Pelosi’s possible trip to Taiwan sparked irritation in Beijing, which has issued disturbing threats of retaliation if she does. No trip has been officially announced, but Ms Pelosi has asked other members of Congress to join her next month for what would be the first visit by a Speaker of the House in 25 years to the self-governing island.

The White House feared the trip would unnecessarily provoke China even as the United States and Europe race to help Ukraine fight off Russian invaders. Mr Biden has publicly stated that the military thought it would be a bad time for Ms Pelosi. And while White House officials officially say it’s up to the speaker to decide her own schedule, the unspoken message interpreted on Capitol Hill has put pressure on her to postpone or cancel.

Tensions have been high in the region for months as China refused to join the US-led effort to isolate Russia, claimed control of the Taiwan Strait and engaged in several encounters close in flight with American, Canadian and Australian aircraft. The war in Ukraine is being watched closely for its implications for Taiwan, another small neighbor coveted by an aggressive great power.

Mr Biden vowed in May to use force to defend Taiwan if attacked as Ukraine has been, the third time he has said so during his brief presidency, even though he and his aides later insisted he was not changing the longstanding US policy of “strategic ambiguity” about how he would react in such a circumstance. The president’s language at the time emboldened Taiwanese hawks and Americans, even though he was sentenced in Beijing.His language on Thursday seemed aimed at diminishing the impression that he was taking a more assertive position than past presidents.

China’s aggressive behavior internationally comes as Mr Xi faces significant problems at home ahead of a critical party congress in November at which he is expected to be confirmed for a third term. China’s ‘zero Covid’ lockdown policies have been deeply unpopular and the economy has slowed dramatically as youth unemployment rises and mortgage and debt crises plague some regions. Analysts said he wanted to show he could stand up to the United States ahead of Congress.

Ahead of Thursday’s call, Beijing issued stronger-than-usual statements about Ms Pelosi’s planned trip, hinting that China could use military force if the speaker goes ahead with his plans. The United States would “bear the consequences” if Ms Pelosi traveled to Taiwan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said this week.

The strong rhetoric was meant to deter Ms Pelosi from making the trip, but that did not mean China would use force, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “The Chinese have made it clear that they want Pelosi’s visit cancelled, but Beijing certainly doesn’t want a military conflict right now,” he said.

But the mood was “remarkably worse” than in March, when the two leaders last spoke on a call, he added.

In the region, the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier group left Singapore on Tuesday and headed north into the South China Sea towards the Taiwan Strait, which could increase pressure between the two nations.

A Seventh Fleet spokeswoman, Cmdr. Hayley Sims, described the move as “the continuation of normal, scheduled carrier operations as part of her routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.” She declined to say if or when the carrier would reach nearby Taiwan.

China supported Russia’s war in Ukraine, buying large amounts of Russian oil and blaming the conflict on NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe. Chinese statement released after Thursday’s call said the leaders had ‘exchanged views’ on Ukraine, calling the war a ‘crisis’, a nod to China’s fundamental support for Russia which Mr. Biden has often criticized.

US officials said the two presidents also discussed US tariffs imposed on China by former President Donald J. Trump and that Mr. Biden was considering lifting them, but no agreement was reached during the meeting. call.

China appeared responsive to the industrial bill passed by Congress on Thursday to energize the U.S. semiconductor industry and reduce reliance on China and other foreign manufacturers. “Attempts to decouple or sever supply chains in defiance of underlying laws would not help stimulate the U.S. economy,” the Chinese statement said. “They would only make the global economy more vulnerable.”

Ms. Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan in early August comes at a particularly sensitive time for the Chinese military. Communist leader Mao Zedong founded the People’s Liberation Army on August 1, 1927, a date that is one of the most important in the army’s calendar.

An integral part of China’s military training is to stage a future takeover of Taiwan, an island of 23 million people that China claims as its own and has vowed to conquer if necessary.

Ms Pelosi would travel in a military plane if she made the trip, as is tradition. One question raised by her planned visit was whether the Chinese air force would attempt to escort Ms Pelosi’s plane, or otherwise interfere with it, as it approached Taiwan.

The mood and outcome of the call could influence whether Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi meet in person later this year in what would be their first face-to-face meeting since Mr. Biden became president, said said Yun Sun, director of the China program. at the Stimson Center in Washington.

The pair have known each other since 2011, when they were both vice presidents, and met in China during a “getting to know you” trip from Mr Biden. They are both likely to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, known as APEC, in Bangkok in November.

Pierre Boulanger reported from Washington, and Jane Pearl from Seoul. Li you contributed to Shanghai research.

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