Biden, Xi to hold call amid standoff in Taiwan over potential Pelosi trip


TAIPEI, Taiwan — President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke by phone Thursday morning, and Chinese officials said Xi had issued a stark warning about what he perceives to be provocative U.S. actions in Taiwan, including a potential visit to the island from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. .

The call, lasting just over two hours, came at a time of heightened tensions over China’s increasingly aggressive encounters with the United States and its military partners in Indo. -Pacific and seemingly off-the-cuff claims by Biden that the US would defend the island militarily. (The White House backed down on those comments.)

These flamboyant disputes have joined long-running differences over trade, technology, security and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and tensions have reached new heights in recent weeks over a possible visit to Taiwan by Pelosi (D-California).

China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement after the call that was littered with criticism of the US administration and its attitude towards Beijing. He said Xi made “candid” comments about Taiwan during the exchange between the leaders.

“We firmly oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ separatism and interference from outside forces, and will never give way to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces in any form,” the official said. statement, adding that “those who play with fire will perish”. I hope the US side can see this clearly.

The White House initially released a brief statement saying the call was an effort to maintain communication between the two countries, confirming that Taiwan was discussed as well as climate and health security issues. Biden reiterated to Xi that US policy toward Taiwan remains unchanged and that the United States opposes any threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the statement said.

The conversation was the fifth between the two leaders since Biden took office. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that apart from Taiwan, the leaders discussed Ukraine, as well as communication between the two countries on economic, energy and food security issues.

The Chinese Communist Party, although it has never ruled Taiwan, insists that the self-governing island of 23 million people is part of its territory and threatens to use force if the democratically elected administration of Taipei declared its formal independence. Beijing is very sensitive to any sign of support or respect for Taiwan, and a possible visit by Pelosi has become an irritant between the United States and China in recent days.

Taiwan refines response to invasion amid threats from China over Pelosi’s trip

“If Pelosi leaves, it will really push things over the edge of a cliff and break the guardrails of the relationship,” said Lu Xiang, research director at the Chinese Institute of Hong Kong, affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Sciences.

He added that Beijing does not accept the argument that Biden cannot prevent Pelosi’s visit due to the separation of powers, and instead sees his potential trip as an indicator of the administration’s willingness to stand up. discard fundamental understandings of the US-China relationship.

At the end of the Trump administration, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing considered the relationship to be at its worst since diplomatic ties were established in 1979. Four earlier phone calls between Xi and Biden, as well that many long meetings between senior diplomats, have not brought about a significant detente.

In a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier in July, Wang provided four lists that Beijing hopes to guide in the relationship, including one on “American wrongdoings that must stop” and another on areas of possible cooperation if tensions are eased.

Progress in areas of common concern will be impossible until the Taiwan issue is resolved, Lu said, adding that China found Biden harder to understand than Donald Trump because the latter was “intentionally unpredictable” while that the current administration appears to Beijing to be “unintentionally unpredictable”. unpredictable” and unable to apply a clear policy in Taiwan. He noted that the severity of the disagreement over Pelosi’s visit could delay or nullify the leaders’ appeal.

Administration fears Pelosi trip to Taiwan could spark cross-strait crisis

The United States maintains that its one-China policy – ​​which does not dispute or endorse Beijing’s territorial claims and is intentionally vague about whether the US military would intervene in a cross-Strait conflict – remains unchanged.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Biden reiterated the US policy of not supporting Taiwanese independence during Thursday’s call and urged the US not to deviate from that stance.

Xi and Biden’s last call, in March, focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the implications of the crisis for US-China relations. Biden warned Xi that there would be consequences if Beijing helped Russia economically or militarily in its war against its neighbor, officials said at the time.

White House officials have since said they have not seen “systematic efforts” to help Russians evade sanctions and export controls.

The call also comes as Xi prepares for a twice-a-decade political meeting, the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, where he is set to assume an unprecedented third term as party general secretary, asserting his leadership position. most powerful in China since Mao Zedong.

The appeal was in the works before controversy over Pelosi’s trip erupted. But tensions rose this month after Beijing threatened consequences if Pelosi went ahead with his planned visit to Taiwan in August, pledging to take “strong action” in response.

Although delegations of lawmakers visit Taiwan periodically — Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) was there this month and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) visited from May 30 to June 1, Pelosi would be the first House speaker to visit since Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1997.

The Biden administration is increasingly concerned that such a trip right now — ahead of the big party conclave in the fall — could prompt China to respond in a way that triggers a crisis at across the Taiwan Strait, and defense, military and intelligence officials have made a vigorous effort to expose the risks to the president’s office. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, personally briefed Pelosi.

The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and its strike group, meanwhile, returned to the South China Sea after a stopover in Singapore, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Biden himself, however, did not speak with Pelosi. That might convince her, analysts said, but the administration, saying it respects the separation of powers, “doesn’t want it to appear that Biden turned it off,” said a person familiar with the matter.

Analysts Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund and Zack Cooper, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argued in a New York Times op-ed that China and the United States are on a “trajectory of crash”. across the Taiwan Strait” and that Pelosi’s visit could provide the “only spark [that] could inflame this explosive situation into a crisis that degenerates into a military conflict.

But some former US officials have played down those fears, saying military conflict is unlikely.

In the short term, said a former senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, “the administration fears that a freeze in relations resulting from a Pelosi trip close communication channels to responsibly manage links”. .”

The former official added: “But in the medium term, it opens space for allies to show more public support for Taiwan by citing the American example. This is the trend of recent years. If the United States does things more openly, others will be ready to do so as well.

Wary of Chinese threat, Taiwanese join Ukraine’s fight against Russia

“If Pelosi visits Taiwan, then she pushes the boundaries. In this case, Beijing will also respond by pushing the boundaries of the Taiwan question. This is why the Chinese military has sent a strong signal to its American counterparts,” said Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

President Biden said July 20 that the U.S. military thinks it’s “not a good idea” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit Taiwan at this time. (Video: Reuters)

However, many Taiwanese security experts say Beijing’s angry reaction is mainly for show and downplays the possibility of China intervening militarily to prevent a visit with risky maneuvers like chasing Pelosi’s plane in the Taiwanese airspace. Rather, they suggest, China will show its displeasure with escalating swordplay, such as sending dozens of People’s Liberation Army planes deep into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone.

The Taiwanese military said growing concerns about a new crisis in the Taiwan Strait had not led to adjustments in military readiness exercises held across Taiwan this week. In a speech on Tuesday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen did not address concerns over a possible visit, but warned against an increase in “grey area” tactics – coercive military maneuvers that stop before outright conflict – from authoritarian nations that upset the regional balance of security. .

“In Taiwan, the focus is more on the ability of the United States to withstand pressure,” said Jeremy Huai-Che Chiang, a Taipei-based analyst and former researcher at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation, a group of reflection. “Many experts in Taiwan are surprised by the overreaction to Pelosi’s trip in the US think tank community.”

At stake for Taiwan is a trend of former and current officials from friendly countries who, assuming US support, have made increasingly frequent visits to Taipei despite Beijing’s censorship. “If the United States can no longer bear it, what signal are they sending to our allies? Chiang asked.

John Kirby, a White House spokesman, said on Tuesday the call was aimed at reaching for a critical international relationship.

“This is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world, in one of the most important parts of the Indo-Pacific region,” Kirby said. “And from everything from the tensions over Taiwan to the war in Ukraine, to how we better manage the competition between our two nations, certainly in the economic realm, there’s a host of issues.”

He added that Biden “wants to make sure the lines of communication with President Xi [remain open] on all issues, whether they are issues on which we agree or issues on which we have significant difficulty.

Lyric Li in Seoul and Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.

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