China’s president warned Joe Biden against ‘playing with fire’ on Taiwan in a much-anticipated phone call that lasted more than two hours on Thursday, as tensions remain high over the president’s potential trip to Taiwan. the Nancy Pelosi House on the island next month.
“Those who play with fire will perish. It is hoped that the United States will be lucid about this,” Xi Jinping said, according to a Chinese statement. He also urged the United States to implement the three joint statements. that serve as the foundation of relations between the two countries “both in words and deeds”. Xi pledged “resolutely” to safeguard China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and said it was “the strong will of more than 1.4 billion Chinese”.
This is not the first time that Xi has used such language to dissuade Washington from publicly supporting Taipei. Last November, Xi also warned the US president at a virtual summit that China was ready to take “decisive action” if Taiwan made moves towards independence that crossed Beijing’s red lines.
In response to Xi’s comment on Taiwan, Biden reiterated Washington’s policy and said it had not changed and that “the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” according to the US statement, which was much shorter than the Chinese one.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not comment on China’s reading of the call, saying simply that Biden and Xi had “a direct and straightforward conversation.”
“It’s something you hear all the time from the president, the importance of having leader-to-leader conversations,” Jean-Pierre told reporters during his Thursday briefing. “But again, I’m not going to speak or characterize” the Chinese reading of the call.
Noting that Biden and Xi have known each other for about four decades, Jean-Pierre said the call has been “in the works for some time.” Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan offered the conversation in June when he met with his Chinese counterpart “as part of our efforts to keep lines of communication open and manage the relationship responsibly,” said said Jean-Pierre.
The men agreed to schedule their first in-person summit as leaders, according to US officials, but no details were given on when or where.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Friday it would continue to deepen its close security partnership with the United States.
Last week it was reported that Pelosi was planning a trip to Taiwan, although this has yet to be confirmed. Biden warned against the trip and Beijing threatened Washington with serious consequences if it went ahead. A visit by the Speaker of the House would be a dramatic, but not unprecedented, demonstration of American support for the island.
Taiwan has complained about increased Chinese military maneuvers over the past two years in an attempt to force it to accept Beijing’s sovereignty.
On Thursday, the Taiwanese military said it fired flares to warn a drone that “peeked” at a strategically located and heavily fortified island near the Chinese coast that was possibly investigating its defences. A senior Taiwanese official said it was a Chinese drone, likely one of China’s new CSC-005 drones. China did not comment.
In 1997, China complained about then-speaker Newt Gingrich’s visit to Taiwan, but eventually swallowed its irritation. Analysts fear that as Xi prepares for an extraordinary third term as China’s president later this year, he doesn’t want to be seen as weak in his response to such a move.
“If the United States insists on going its own way and challenging China’s financial performance, it will surely receive strong responses,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry. “All consequences arising therefrom shall be borne by the United States.”
Thursday’s call began at 8:33 a.m. EDT (1:33 p.m. BST) and lasted two hours and 17 minutes. China’s spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the exchange “frank”. This is the fifth conversation between the two leaders since February 2021, when Biden became president of the United States.
On the call, Xi said Washington’s definition of Beijing as its main rival and most serious long-term challenge was “a misperception of China-US relations and a misinterpretation of China’s development, and would mislead the peoples of both countries and the international community.” according to Hua.
Chinese state media said Xi told Biden that the United States should uphold the “one China principle” – which the United States calls the “one China policy” – and stressed that China firmly opposed Taiwan independence and interference from outside forces.
Yet, although Taiwan has dominated the headlines lately, the executives have spoken of other issues as well. Tensions surrounding the South China Sea, for example, were high on the list raised by Biden on the call.
The two leaders also discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and bilateral trade, global supply chains and the ongoing food and energy crises, according to the Chinese statement. Biden had previously said he was still considering lifting some of the tariffs on Chinese imports in a bid to ease the domestic cost of living crisis.
No major announcement was made immediately after the call. The United States said the two leaders instructed their teams to follow through on their conversation, including to address climate change and health security.
The Biden administration has debated whether to lift some tariffs on Chinese goods to blunt soaring inflation, but U.S. officials said a decision was not expected before the call.
When Biden last spoke with Xi in March, he warned of “consequences” if Beijing provided material support for Russia’s war, and the US government believes the red line has no effect. not been crossed in the months that followed.
As an equal branch of government, the US executive branch has little control over congressional travel. China has grown more powerful militarily and economically since Gingrich’s visit in 1997 and some analysts fear such a trip by Pelosi at a time of strained ties could trigger a crisis across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.
Ali Wyne, senior analyst at Eurasia Group and author of America’s Great-Power Opportunity, said the call from the two leaders would at least serve to reinforce the imperative to avoid miscalculations on Taiwan.
He said: “The consequences of a military confrontation between Washington and Beijing would be all the more devastating against the backdrop of a bitter war in Eastern Europe and a fragile recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”
Reuters contributed to this report