China's Xi and Biden converse as tension over Taiwan rises.

 China's Xi and Biden converse as tension over Taiwan rises.

China's Xi and Biden converse as tension over Taiwan rises.

While tensions between Washington and Beijing are rising, President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had a lengthy and open discussion about Taiwan on Thursday. Biden had previously expressed hope for the world's most crucial country-to-country relationship to be stabilized.


The two presidents did decide to start planning their first face-to-face summit since Xi is reluctant to travel due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Also discussed were some areas for cooperation, such as climate change.


However, one of the most contentious issues turned out to be Taiwan. The issue has emerged as a serious point of conflict, as US officials fear a more imminent Chinese move on the self-governing island and as a potential visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prompts warnings from Beijing and a concerted effort by the Biden administration to prevent tensions from spiraling out of control.

The two hours and seventeen minutes of conversation on Thursday covered the subject in great detail. According to China's version of events, Xi gave Biden a foreboding warning.


"It is forbidden to disregard public opinion, and you get burned if you play with fire. I hope the US side can clearly realize this "He told Biden, the official news agency of China reported.


The White House provided a less detailed summary of the call.


President Biden emphasized that the US position on Taiwan has not changed and that Washington "strongly opposes unilateral moves to disrupt the status quo or threaten peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," according to a US readout.


The Taiwan debate was described as "straight and honest" by a senior US administration source, who minimized Xi's caution, claiming that the Chinese leader was routinely forewarning of the dangers of "playing with fire."


Since February 2021, Biden and Xi have spoken on the phone five times. Prior to the meeting, US officials warned that a variety of subjects, including the conflict in Ukraine and the tensions surrounding Taiwan, would likely come up.


The likelihood of relations with Beijing materially improving, though, was slim. Instead, Biden's advisers believe that keeping a personal relationship with Xi can, at most, prevent a mistake that could result in conflict.


This is the kind of relationship-building that President Biden strongly supports, even with countries with which you may have serious differences, according to National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby this week.


The two team leaders discussed how much work they had done for their teams during the course of Thursday's conversation, including setting up the potential in-person meeting. As presidential counterparts, they have not yet personally interacted.


When a number of summits take place in Asia in November, including the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok, Thailand, there may be an opportunity for a summit. According to those with knowledge of the situation, US officials hope to set up such a meeting on the sidelines of one of the summits.


The controversy over Pelosi's potential trip to Taiwan predated the preparation for Biden and Xi's phone talk. Neither party acknowledged that Pelosi's proposals were expressly brought up.


White House officials said Biden hadn't yet made up his mind and that the subject wouldn't be a major part of his meeting with Xi, but he is presently considering whether to lift certain tariffs imposed on China under Trump in an effort to reduce inflation.

Instead, the source of the current tensions is China's growing aggression in the area, particularly in relation to Taiwan and the South China Sea. Without clear lines of communication, US officials worry that misunderstandings might turn into inadvertent conflict.


The way Beijing reacts to Pelosi's planned trip to Taiwan is one example of this.

Pelosi hasn't made any declarations regarding her travel arrangements, which aren't set in stone.


"I never discuss my travels. It puts me in risk, "Wednesday was her date.


Even yet, Beijing's reaction to the rumor that the third-in-line to the US presidency was considering a trip to Taiwan was excessive because Beijing views trips by senior American officials as a sign of diplomatic relations with the island.


In response to inquiries about Pelosi's rumored trip to Taipei, Ministry of Defense Spokesperson Tan Kefei said: "If the US insists on taking its own course, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and it will definitely take strong actions to thwart any external force's interference and separatist's schemes for "Taiwan independence," and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.


The rhetoric, according to the White House, only served to "totally unneeded" exacerbate tensions, calling the remarks "unnecessary" and "unhelpful."


Additionally, they revealed what US officials claim to be a Chinese official misunderstanding of the significance of Pelosi's planned visit. Given that both Pelosi and Biden are Democrats, the sources speculated that China would mistake Pelosi's visit for one by an official government representative. Administration officials are worried that China doesn't, if at all, distinguish Pelosi and Biden.


That increases the strain on Biden and Xi's call. Officials remained coy over whether Pelosi's visit would come up or how much it would influence the discussion. However, China's evident perplexity by the divergences between the White House and Congress can introduce some petty hostility into the negotiations.


Timing is one of the reasons why administration officials are worried about Pelosi's travel. It would occur at a particularly sensitive time as pressure mounts on Beijing's leadership to project power ahead of the forthcoming Chinese Communist Party congress, at which Xi is anticipated to seek an unprecedented third term. In the upcoming weeks, Chinese party officials are anticipated to start laying the groundwork for that conference.


With China recently announcing its worst economic performance in two years, Xi finds himself in a politically difficult scenario ahead of the important conference.


When they were each other's country's vice presidents, Biden and Xi spent a lot of time together while touring throughout China and the US and developing a friendship.

The previous time Biden spoke with Xi was in March, when he tried to persuade the Chinese president to oppose Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Officials have been closely observing Beijing's response to the invasion in the hopes that the largely unanimity of the western response — which included a harsh set of economic sanctions and massive supply of armaments — will provide some insight as China examines its moves toward Taiwan.


According to US sources, there is a remote chance that China will misjudge how to react to a prospective Pelosi visit. According to a US official speaking to CNN, Biden administration officials are worried that China may try to cancel a future visit to Taiwan by establishing a no-fly zone over Taiwan, thereby escalating tensions in the region.


That still has a slim chance, according to the officials. The likelihood that China increases its flights even further into Taiwan's air defense zone is thought to be more feasible, and this may lead to fresh discussions about potential reactions from Taiwan and the US, the US official noted. What those possible answers would include was not specified.

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