The matter was discussed at length in a 2:17-minute phone call Thursday. According to China’s version of events, Xi issued an ominous warning to Biden.
“Public opinion should not be violated, if you play with fire you will get burned. I believe the US side will see this clearly,” he told Biden, according to China’s state news agency.
The White House’s account of the call was not specific.
“On Taiwan, President Biden underscored that America’s policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
The phone call was the fifth conversation between Biden and Xi since February 2021. Ahead of that, U.S. officials said a number of topics — from tensions around Taiwan to economic competition in Ukraine — could come up.
But hopes of significantly improving relations with Beijing were slim. Instead, Biden’s aides believe that maintaining a personal connection with Xi can avoid a miscalculation that could lead to conflict.
“President Biden is committed to doing this, even with countries where you have significant differences,” John Kirby, communications coordinator for the National Security Council, said this week.
Scheduling Biden’s phone call with Xi, which preceded anger over Pelosi’s proposed visit to Taipei, had been in discussions for weeks. Biden is currently weighing whether to raise some Trump-era tariffs on China in an effort to lower inflation, although White House officials have suggested he has not yet made up his mind and the topic will not factor heavily into his conversation with Xi. .
Instead, China’s increasing aggression — including over Taiwan and the South China Sea — is at the center of current tensions. US officials fear that without open communication, misunderstandings could spiral into unplanned conflict.
That includes how Beijing responds to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
Pelosi has not made any announcements about her plans for the trip, which have not been finalized.
“I never talk about my journey. It’s a risk for me,” he said on Wednesday.
Yet even unofficial word that the third-in-line US president is considering a visit to Taiwan has prompted a major response from Beijing, which sees visits by top US officials as a sign of diplomatic ties with the island.
“If the U.S. insists on taking its own course, the Chinese military will never be idle and will take strong measures to defeat any outside power’s interference and separatist plans for ‘Taiwan independence,’ and resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said Tuesday at Pelosi’s Taipei meeting. Answered questions about the trip.
The White House called the comments “unnecessary” and “unhelpful,” saying the rhetoric only served to heighten tensions “in a completely unnecessary way.”
They also revealed what U.S. officials said was a misunderstanding by Chinese officials about the significance of Pelosi’s potential visit. Because Pelosi and Biden are Democrats, China may have confused Pelosi’s visit with an official administration visit, officials said. Administration officials worry that China doesn’t separate Pelosi much from Biden.
That adds pressure to Biden’s call with Xi. Officials were tight-lipped about whether Pelosi’s visit would come up or how much it would factor into the conversation. But China’s apparent confusion over differences between the White House and Congress could fuel personal animosity in the talks.
Administration officials’ concerns about Pelosi’s trip are partly rooted in its timing. It comes at a particularly tense moment, with Xi expected to seek an unprecedented third term in office during the upcoming Chinese Communist Party congress, putting pressure on the leadership in Beijing to show strength. Chinese party officials are expected to lay the groundwork for that conference in the coming weeks.
With China recently reporting its worst economic performance in two years, Xi finds himself in a politically critical situation ahead of the crucial meeting.
While both Vice Presidents of their respective countries, Biden and Xi spent hours in each other’s company, traveling across China and the United States to develop a bond. They have yet to meet face-to-face as presidential counterparts, however, with Xi largely avoiding travel during the Covid-19 pandemic.
That could change in November, when a series of summits in Asia — including the Group of 20 in Bali and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bangkok — will provide an opportunity to meet in person. US officials plan to arrange such a meeting on the sidelines of a summit, people familiar with the matter said.
Biden last spoke with Xi in March, working to convince the Chinese leader not to support Russia amid its aggression in Ukraine. Officials are closely watching how Beijing responds to the invasion, largely expecting a unified Western response — including withering sanctions and billions of dollars in arms exports — as China sheds light on its actions toward Taiwan.
US officials believe there is little risk that China will miscalculate in response to Pelosi’s visit. In an effort to improve travel, Biden administration officials are concerned that China may seek to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan, which could further escalate tensions in the region, a US official told CNN.
Officials said it was a remote possibility. They say China is likely to step up more flights inside Taiwan’s self-declared air defense zone, which could prompt renewed discussions about possible responses from Taiwan and the United States, the U.S. official added. They don’t elaborate on what those possible answers are.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.
“Friend of animals everywhere. Devoted analyst. Total alcohol scholar. Infuriatingly humble food trailblazer.”