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US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a phone call on July 28 where they discussed security and economic issues of concern for about two hours and twenty minutes.
2 hours and 20 minutes
The call marked the first time since March 2022 that the two leaders have spoken. They had spoken the same way two hours earlier.
Both the White House and the Chinese Foreign Ministry read out the call and described the conversation as candid and profound.
While the March call came in the wake of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the July 28 call came as tensions mounted between China and the US over a possible visit to Taiwan by US Speaker of the House Nancy. Pelosi, which is rumored to take place in early August.
This would be the highest visit by a US official in 25 years.
China considers the move particularly provocative because not only is Pelosi second in line for the US presidency, she and Biden are members of the same political party, so a coordinated move between the two suggests to promote the one-China principle of undermine Beijing. The truth, however, is probably much less simple.
China says US is playing with fire
Perhaps the most critical topic of conversation was that of Taiwan. Tensions over Taiwan have steadily increased over the years, with China taking measures that the US and Taiwan deem provocative, such as the intrusion of large numbers of Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone.
Meanwhile, Beijing is concerned about the continued US arms sales to the island it considers a renegade province, though it has never had any control over it. Visits from US lawmakers are also a sore spot, the most recent being a delegation that visited in May 2022 led by a US senator. China considers the visits a provocation and encouragement for Taiwan’s pro-independence movement.
Speaking to Biden, Xi warned against backing Taiwanese independence and that China’s territorial integrity “was the firm will of more than 1.4 billion Chinese.”
He went on to add that “the will of the people cannot be defied and those who perish with fire will perish by it”, in the hope that the US would “be clear on the matter”. As noted by the TBENwhile this rhetoric is heated, it is not unique and has been used before, such as during the conference visit in May 2022.
In particular, the statement from China’s foreign ministry noted that Biden said the US’s one China policy has not been and will not change, and that the US does not support “Taiwan independence.”
Biden says Pelosi comes from ‘separate and equal’ branch of government
The White House reading confirmed that point and characterized the discussion about Taiwan as “direct and fair”.
While Biden reaffirmed the US commitment to one China policy, he also warned of “unilateral changes in the status quo by both sides” as he wants to maintain peace and stability in the region.
When asked about Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan, the White House official declined to answer on her behalf, only as a statement of fact that Pelosi’s legislature was a “separate and equal branch of government.”
As described by a press in attendance, Biden has “no control over whether Pelosi travels to Taiwan”.
International economies, with a side of CHIPS
Xi and Biden also discussed the challenges facing the international economic outlook.
Xi rejected the idea that the US should see China as its main rival, and that “the biggest long-term challenge would be to misinterpret China-US relations”. He stressed the need to maintain good communication channels and promote bilateral cooperation.
There was also speculation that Biden intended to decide whether to cut tariffs imposed on China as part of his predecessor Donald Trump’s trade war following the call, as reported by Bloomberg.
The White House rejected the idea that the talk was a critical part of Biden’s considerations, but did confirm that Biden explained to Xi his concerns about what he saw as China’s unfair economic practices.
Also notable was a discussion in the press conference, but not the call, about the recently passed CHIPS law. The law gives US$52 billion (S$71.6 billion) to the US semiconductor industry to build infrastructure for semiconductor manufacturing in the US, as well as US$200 billion (S$275.6 billion) for research. The bill was passed in the Senate, with 64 senators voting in favor and 33 voting against — a remarkable feat given the high degree of partisanship in the body at the moment.
Biden said the bill will strengthen the country’s national security by making them “less dependent on foreign semiconductor sources.” NPR reported. Taiwan, the epicenter of mounting political tensions with China, produces the largest volume of advanced chips in the world.
Chinese state-backed media Global times took the act as a way to “surround” China, which is not only the world’s largest consumer of semiconductors, but is also trying to boost its domestic chip industry.
The White House did not say whether the two leaders spoke about the matter, but said the US administration saw the act as “strengthening from within” to compete with China.
Possible face-to-face meeting
Both leaders insisted that their respective teams follow up on their discussion topics, with both apparently noting “how much work they had created for their teams”.
The White House also mentioned the possibility of a face-to-face meeting in the future, though it did not specify when or where.
Such a meeting could take place during the G20 summit in Bali in November 2022. Indonesian President Joko Widodo was recently in Beijing where he personally invited Xi. Biden will likely be there as well.
Top image via White House/Flickr and Xinhua