Biden speaks to Xi Jinping over phone call, discusses US-China bilateral ties

Apr 03, 2024

Washington: US President Joe Biden spoke to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping over a phone call on Tuesday morning to discuss bilateral ties between the countries as well as issues of regional and global importance, including progress on counternarcotics and cooperation in areas like artificial intelligence and climate change. This is the first phone call between the two leaders since their summit meeting in California last November.

A senior US administration official told reporters on the eve of the call that the two leaders were to discuss the US-China bilateral relationship, the continued importance of strengthening lines of communication and managing competition and a range of regional and global issues. "Of course, we have not changed our approach to the People's Republic of China, which remains one focused on the framework of invest, align and compete,” the official said.

The call is meant to demonstrate a return to regular leader-to-leader dialogue between the two powers and kicks off several weeks of high-level engagements between the two countries, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen set to travel to China on Thursday and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to follow suit.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with the Chinese director of the Office of Foreign Affairs Commission and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bangkok on January 27 and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meeting with Wang in Munich in February this year. The call highlights the importance of intense diplomacy to manage tensions and prevent unintended conflict, according to senior officials.

Biden raises Taiwan, human rights abuses in China

The two leaders discussed Taiwan ahead of next month's inauguration of Lai Ching-te, the island's president-elect, who has vowed to safeguard its de-facto independence from China and further align it with other democracies. Biden reaffirmed the United States' longstanding “One China” policy and reiterated that the US opposes any coercive means to bring Taiwan under Beijing's control.

The 81-year-old US president also raised concerns about China's operations in the South China Sea, including efforts last month to impede the Philippines, which the US is treaty-obligated to defend, from resupplying its forces on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal. He also pressed China to do more to meet its commitments to halt the flow of illegal narcotics and to schedule additional precursor chemicals to prevent their export.

During the call, Biden also reiterated warnings to the Chinese president against interfering in the 2024 elections in the US as well as against continued malicious cyberattacks against critical American infrastructure, according to a senior US administration official. He also raised concerns about human rights in China, including Hong Kong's new restrictive national security law and its treatment of minority groups.

Biden also pressed China over its defence relationship with Russia, which is seeking to rebuild its weaponry and industrial base in its war against Ukraine, and also called on Beijing to wield its influence on North Korea to rein in the nuclear-powered country seemingly preparing for war. Biden also raised concerns with Xi over China's “unfair economic practices" and said the US would take steps to preserve its security.

US-China tensions now

The call was the leaders' first conversation since their November summit in California produced renewed ties between the two nations' militaries and a promise of enhanced cooperation on stemming the flow of deadly fentanyl and its precursors from China. Biden has pressed for sustained interactions at all levels of government to keep the two most powerful economies from direct conflict.

Both US and Chinese officials reported that the meeting in November was productive, comprehensive and constructive, although both sides are still far apart on many issues. Several analysts also noted that this was a signal of warming relations between the two nations. However, analysts have cautioned against overly optimistic conclusions, saying that the crucial bilateral meeting is unlikely to change the positions of the leaders of many pressing issues.

Relations between the US and China have remained strained particularly after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in 2022. Tensions are still afresh as US lawmakers' renewed angst over Chinese ownership of the popular social media app TikTok has generated new legislation that would ban TikTok if its China-based owner ByteDance doesn't sell its stakes in the platform within six months of the bill's enactment.

Meanwhile, ahead of her visit to Guangzhou and Beijing, Yellen last week said that Beijing is flooding the market with green energy that “distorts global prices.” She said she intends to share her beliefs with her counterparts that Beijing's increased production of solar energy, electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries poses risks to productivity and growth to the global economy.

(with inputs from agencies)