On Thursday, July 28th, President Biden spoke with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The phone call took place while President Biden was recovering from his second bout of COVID-19. The two leaders shared a two-hour and twenty-minute conversation, following on from their conversation on March 18th. Characterized as a “straightforward conversation” by the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, President Biden and President Xi discussed climate change, health security, counternarcotic efforts, human rights concerns, Taiwan policy, and the Russian war on Ukraine.
According to White House representatives, the call was part of the Biden administration’s efforts to “maintain and deepen line(s) of communication between the PRC.” and “responsibly manage our differences and work together where our interests align.” John Kirby, the Coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, stated that “this is the kind of relationship-tending that President Biden believes strongly in doing, even with nations with which you might have significant differences.”
In a White House Press Briefing, journalist Seung Min Kim for The Washington Post brought forth statements issued by the PRC, which quoted President Xi telling President Biden, “Those who play with fire will perish by it.” The White House would not comment as to whether they viewed these statements by President Xi as a sign that tensions might escalate in the near future.
In a White House Press Briefing, the Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen spoke about the U.S. economy in contrast with that of the PRC. Yellen stated that, “There are a variety of risks ahead, like Russia’s war, COVID lockdowns in China, and more. We have strengths in the economy, a strong labor market being one strength. Consumer household balance sheets remain generally strong. Credit quality is strong. You do not see some significant increase in businesses’ bankruptcies. These would be the typical kinds of distress we associate with recession.”
Biden’s message regarding U.S. policy on Taiwan was explicitly clear: the U.S. still opposes any unilateral effort to either change the status quo or to undermine the stability of the Taiwan Strait. In plainer terms, the Biden administration maintains the policy of power-balancing in the Asia-Pacific region and supports the sovereignty of Taiwan. Furthermore, Press Secretary Jean-Pierre asserted that President Biden had brought forth concerns regarding genocide and forced labor practices perpetrated by the PRC, but she would not elaborate on President Xi’s alleged responses.
Increased communication with the PRC is a smart foreign policy move on behalf of the Biden administration. Clear, consistent, and frank conversations between the political leaders of the U.S. and the PRC are needed to maintain a peaceful working relationship between the two states. Miscommunications and unclear expectations lead to misunderstandings and general tensions. The call between President Biden and President Xi comes at a particularly critical moment given that Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has recently confirmed a future trip to Asia.
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