Biden holds fifth call with Chinese Xi, seeking to ease tensions in Taiwan

WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a fifth call as leaders on Thursday, speaking for more than two hours, as concerns mounted over a possible visit to Taiwan, claimed by China, from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi.

The White House said the call began at 8:33 a.m. (12:33 p.m. GMT) and ended at 10:50 a.m. (2:50 p.m. GMT). US officials had said it would have a broad agenda, including a discussion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which China has yet to condemn.

At the grassroots level, US officials view the swap as another chance to manage competition between the world’s two largest economies, whose ties have been increasingly clouded by tensions over democratically-ruled Taiwan, which Xi has sworn to reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary.

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Beijing has issued growing warnings of repercussions if Pelosi travels to Taiwan, a move that would be a dramatic, but not unprecedented, show of US support for the island, which it says faces military and economic threats growing Chinese.

Washington has no official relations with Taiwan and follows a “one China” policy that diplomatically recognizes Beijing, not Taipei. But he is obligated by US law to provide the island with the means to defend itself, and pressure is mounting in Congress for more explicit support.

“It’s about keeping the lines of communication open with the Chinese president, one of the most important bilateral relationships we have, not just in this region but around the world, because it touches so much,” he said. the White House national security spokesperson. John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

A person briefed on the planning of the call said the Biden administration believes leader-to-leader engagement is the best way to reduce tensions over Taiwan.

Some analysts believe Xi also has an interest in avoiding escalation as he seeks an unprecedented third term at a congress of China’s ruling Communist Party scheduled for the fall.

Biden also wanted to discuss climate and economic competition issues, the briefed person said, as well as the idea of ​​capping Russian oil prices to punish Moscow for its war in Ukraine, an issue that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said. raised with its Chinese counterparts earlier in July. Read more

The Biden administration has debated whether to lift some tariffs on Chinese goods to blunt soaring inflation, but U.S. officials said a decision was not expected before the call. Read more

When Biden last spoke with Xi in March, he warned of the “consequences” if Beijing provided material support for Russia’s war, and the US government believes that this red line has no effect. not been crossed in the months that followed.

Taiwan has complained about increased Chinese military maneuvers over the past two years in an attempt to force it to accept Beijing’s sovereignty. Just before Thursday’s call, the Taiwanese military said it fired flares to warn a drone that “peeked” at a strategically located and heavily fortified island near the Chinese coast that was probing possibly- be his defenses. Read more

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The White House reiterated that its “one China” policy had not changed despite speculation of a possible Pelosi trip, which the speaker has yet to confirm.

The last time a Speaker of the United States House visited Taiwan was in 1997, and as an equal branch of government, the US executive branch has little control over congressional travel.

China has since grown more powerful militarily and economically, and some analysts fear such a visit at a time of strained ties could spark a crisis in the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Straits waterway separating China and Taiwan. .

“The relationship is in such a toxic state. The mutual distrust is really at an all-time high. I think people don’t realize how dangerous this particular moment is,” China expert Bonnie Glaser told the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

She said Biden and Xi needed to focus their call on de-escalation, including possible mechanisms to reduce the risk of accidents.

Kirby said the administration has been in touch with Pelosi’s office to make sure she has “all the context” she needs to make decisions about her trip.

China has given few clues about the specific responses it might take if Pelosi, a longtime critic of China, especially on human rights issues, visits Taiwan.

Martin Chorzempa, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said playing on the Taiwan issue could serve Xi as a domestic distraction from China’s slowing economy, but “any reaction strong enough to trigger US sanctions would do damage massive to China and the global economy.” Read more

Chinese state media said on Thursday that the country would strive for the best possible outcome for the economy this year, abandoning previous calls that it would strive to hit its 2022 growth target. followed a high-level Communist Party meeting chaired by Xi. Read more

Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said he did not believe the two sides were on the brink of a crisis, but “the risk of a major crisis is far above zero” and a Biden-Xi call was important to avoid an unwanted skirmish.

“Beijing, Taipei and Washington are full of people steeped in how to send and interpret signals conveying threats and reassurance, and I’m sure no one wants a war right now.”

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Reporting by Michael Martina, Trevor Hunnicutt, David Brunnstrom and Jarrett Renshaw; additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing. Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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