Biden talks to Xi about conflicts, from Ukraine to the Pacific

President Biden spoke with Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, on Tuesday morning in a call that aimed to address a range of combative and cooperative issues as the United States grapples with wars and other global crises, U.S. and Chinese officials said .

According to a White House summary of the call, topics raised by Biden included combating narcotics production, conflict in the Middle East, North Korea's nuclear program and China's support for Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Biden intended the speech to be a “check-in” rather than a discussion with concrete outcomes, said a senior administration official, who spoke to a small group of reporters Monday evening on condition of anonymity, as is customary for such people. Washington briefing. But it was a crucial signal during a crucial political year and as the countries try to stabilize a relationship that hit a multi-decade low last year.

John F. Kirby, White House national security spokesman, said Tuesday that the two leaders had a “candid and constructive” conversation, which he said also included topics of unfair trade policies, wrongfully detained U.S. citizens and TikTok.

“We believe there is no substitute for regular leader-level communication to effectively manage this complex and often tense bilateral relationship,” Kirby said. “Both presidents agreed: pick up the phone and talk when necessary.”

The call came days before Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen's trip to China, which will be followed soon after by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, the official said. These would be the first visits to China by Cabinet members this year; both officials went to Beijing last year to stabilize relations after tempers flared during the China spy balloon episode.

Since last summer, Biden and Xi have sought to prevent any clashes between their nations. Biden is trying to focus on his close race for re-election this year. Xi is grappling with a host of domestic problems, including a struggling economy and corruption at the top of his military.

Biden and Xi held a face-to-face summit in November at a lush estate in Woodside, outside San Francisco. The two also met in November 2022 in Bali, Indonesia – their first in-person summit as national leaders – and had their final call in July 2022.

The senior U.S. official told reporters Tuesday's call was part of U.S. efforts toward modest goals of maintaining contact and managing competition “responsibly.”

According to the White House briefing, Biden raised two issues about China's aggression in the Pacific: Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The Biden administration has warned China to rein in its coast guard ships, which have fired water cannons at Philippine supply ships in a disputed area of ​​the South China Sea. And the United States has said the Chinese military is using planes and ships provocatively near Taiwan, the de facto independent island whose status is the biggest sticking point between Washington and Beijing.

However, Biden reiterated to Xi that the United States sticks to the “one China policy,” which recognizes the mainland People's Republic of China as China's sole legitimate government, without saying anything about Taiwan's status.

During the phone call, Xi “stressed that the Taiwan issue is the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations,” according to a description of the call released by the Chinese government. Xi called for “concrete actions” from the United States to demonstrate a commitment not to support Taiwan's independence, the description said.

Like previous Chinese leaders, Xi has said Taiwan must be brought under Chinese rule, by force if necessary. Biden has said four times that US troops will defend Taiwan if China tries to invade. Those remarks were a departure from the U.S. government's decades-long efforts to leave ambiguous whether the U.S. military would defend Taiwan from a Chinese assault.

Joseph Wu, Taiwan's foreign minister, said in an interview with the New York Times in Taipei on Thursday that China has steadily increased its military activity around Taiwan, as well as its cyber espionage efforts and promotion of disinformation online, all equivalent to “grey local aggressions” before a real war. “We need the United States to work more closely with Taiwan,” he said.

In the call, Xi also criticized the “endless stream of measures” taken by the United States to try to suppress China's economy, science and technology, the Chinese government summary said. Biden imposed limits on the export of advanced semiconductors to China.

Biden told Xi that his government “will continue to take necessary actions to prevent advanced American technologies from being used to undermine our national security, without unduly restricting trade and investment,” according to the House call summary White.

Kirby said the two leaders discussed TikTok and that Biden reiterated his concerns about ownership of the social media app. The House voted last month to force the Chinese company that owns the app to sell it or face a nationwide ban. The bill is now bottled up in the Senate, but Biden has said he will sign it if it reaches his desk.

“He made it clear to President Xi that this is not about banning the app, but rather about our interest in divesting it so that the national security interests and data security of the American people can be protected,” Kirby said.

The senior US official said Biden wants to stress to Xi that China must not continue to help Russia rebuild its military-industrial base. Russian weapons production has been robust despite economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries after President Vladimir V. Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Steady production of munitions and missiles , as well as weapons aid from North Korea and Iran help Russia in Ukraine.

China has regained some trade areas that European nations had cut off, and that has allowed Russia to rebuild its weapons production capabilities, the official said.

Biden also wanted Xi to help curb attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Yemen's Houthi forces, an Iran-backed military group that says it will continue attacks as long as Israel carries out its war with Hamas in Gaza, he said. said the American official. The Biden administration has been pressuring China to ask Iran to rein in the Houthis, especially as Chinese ships also pass through the Red Sea.

The official said Biden would like to further cooperate with China on several issues: limiting the export of chemicals used to make fentanyl, high-level military talks, discussions on artificial intelligence and climate change policy.

Meaghan Tobin contributed reporting from Taipei, Taiwan.

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