Biden, Xi agree to communicate amid tension, but no breakthrough

Nov 17 , 2021. – 15 hours ago – 18:27 By Miya Tanaka and Tomoyuki Tachikawa, KYODO NEWS

U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Nov. 15, 2021, in Washington. (Getty/Kyodo)

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden agreed Monday with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to maintain communication to ensure that tense relations between the world’s two major powers will not lead to conflict, but they remained loggerheads over security strains surrounding the Taiwan Strait.

No specific deliverables were reported from the governments of the two nations following their first face-to-face meeting, though in a virtual format, which lasted about three and a half hours, amid rifts on issues ranging from trade to human rights and Taiwan.

“It seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Biden said at the outset of the talks, speaking toward a screen showing the Chinese president.

“It’s important we communicate honestly and directly to one another about our priorities and our intentions,” he added, calling for the need to establish “some commonsense guardrails” to avoid any miscalculation or misunderstanding.

Xi said a “sound and steady” relationship is required for advancing the two countries’ respective development and for safeguarding a peaceful international environment, while vowing to work with Biden “to build consensus, take active steps, and move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction.”

But he also noted that Beijing and Washington should “respect each other” and run their own “domestic affairs” as they work together to tackle global challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

With Xi not having left China at all during the pandemic, the online meeting was intended to bring the two leaders “as close to face-to-face as technology allows to see one another,” according to the Biden administration.

The talks, which followed two phone calls earlier this year, started off in a cordial atmosphere, with Xi calling Biden, a former U.S. vice president, his “old friend.”

The U.S. and Chinese leaders, meanwhile, did not discuss the Beijing Olympics scheduled to be held in February next year, although there was speculation that Xi, during the virtual summit, would invite Biden to participate in a ceremony of the sports event.

They also touched on thorny issues such as Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in its far-western Xinjiang region, the crackdown on Hong Kong democracy and the Taiwan situation.

Biden “raised concerns” about China’s practices in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly, while conveying the U.S. determination to advance a “free and open Indo-Pacific” in the face of Beijing’s assertiveness in the region, according to a statement by the White House.

On Taiwan, Biden was quoted as telling Xi the United States “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” it said.

Biden also indicated that he will take a tough stance against what he views as China’s unfair trade and economic practices, apparently with its extensive use of industrial subsidies that have worked against American workers in mind.

“All countries have to play by the same rules of the road” and the United States is “always going to stand up for our interests and values and those of our allies and partners,” Biden said.

Xi urged Biden not to intervene in China’s “internal affairs,” according to Chinese state-run media, apparently indicating issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Recently, tensions have grown over Taiwan as China is stepping up its military pressure on the self-ruled democratic island, which Beijing considers a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 as the result of a civil war. Relations have deteriorated since independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s president in 2016.

After switching its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, Washington has committed to a one-China policy, which recognizes Beijing as the “sole legal government of China” but allows unofficial ties with Taiwan and assistance to the island in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability.

China has also warned the United States, which has been forging closer ties with Taipei, to observe the one-China policy and stop sending the “wrong signals” to Taiwan independence forces if it wants to “safeguard peace across the Taiwan Strait,” according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Biden told Xi that the United States does not support Taiwan independence forces, according to Chinese state-run media.

While noting that the theme of the virtual summit was to establish “guardrails” to responsibly manage their intensifying competition, a senior U.S. official said overall “we were not expecting a breakthrough” and “there were none to report.”

The official also admitted that there was “nothing new established in the form of guardrails or any other understandings” over Taiwan and setting up such measures were not part of the conversation.

Taiwan is seen as a potential military flashpoint that could draw the United States into conflict with China, which would also pose serious security challenges to Japan, a close U.S. ally. Taiwan is located just 170 kilometers away from the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, claimed by China.

Biden has sought to push back against China’s assertiveness by rallying U.S. allies and like-minded partners toward building what his administration calls a “position of strength.”

The efforts have included developing ties among the Quad group, which involves three other major Indo-Pacific democracies — Japan, Australia and India — and the creation of a new security partnership among Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States called AUKUS.

Cr.KYODO NEWS