Xi Jinping & Joe Biden spoke on the phone for more than 2 hours

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.

Tan Min-Wei | July 29, 2022, 04:37 PM

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United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a call on July 28 where they spoke for about two hours and 20 minutes, discussing security and economic issues of concern.

2 hours and 20 Minutes

The call was the first time since March 2022 that the two leaders have spoken. They had similarly spoken for two hours previously.

Both the White House and the Chinese Foreign Ministry provided readouts of the call, describing the conversation as candid and in-depth.

While the March call came in the wake of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the July 28 call came as China-U.S. tension is heating up due to a prospective visit to Taiwan by the U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that's rumoured to be held in early August.

This would represent the most senior visit by an U.S. official in 25 years.

China views the move as particularly provocative as not only is Pelosi second in line to the U.S. presidency, she and Biden are members of the same political party, therefore suggesting a coordinated move between the two to undermine Beijing's one China principle. The truth, however, is probably much less straightforward.

China says U.S. is playing with fire

Perhaps the most critical topic of conversation was that of Taiwan. Tensions over Taiwan have been steadily increasing over the years, with China taking actions that the U.S. and Taiwan consider provocative, such as intrusions by large numbers of China’s military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence zone.

Meanwhile Beijing is concerned by continuing U.S. arms sales to the island that it considers a renegade province, despite never having control over it. Visits by U.S. legislators are also a sore spot, the most recent being a delegation that visited in May 2022 led by a U.S. senator. China considers the visits a provocation as well as encouragement for Taiwan’s pro-independence movement.

In the call with Biden, Xi warned against supporting Taiwanese independence, and that China’s territorial integrity was “the firm will of more than 1.4 billion Chinese people”.

He further added that “the will of the people cannot be defied and those who play with fire will perish by it”, hoping that the U.S. “would be clear-eyed” about the issue. As was noted by the BBC, although this rhetoric is heated, it is not unique and has been used repeatedly before, such as during the May 2022 congressional visit.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry's statement particularly noted Biden saying that the one China policy of the U.S. had not, and will not, change, and that the U.S. does not support “Taiwan independence”.

Biden says Pelosi is from a 'separate and coequal' government branch

The White House readout confirmed that point, characterising the discussion on Taiwan as “direct and honest”.

While Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the one China policy, he also warned against “unilateral changes to the status quo by either side”, wanting to maintain the peace and stability of the region.

When asked about Pelosi’s possible Taiwan visit, the White House official refused to answer on her behalf, only saying as a statement of fact that Pelosi’s legislative branch was a “separate and coequal branch of government".

As described by a member of the press present, Biden “has no control really over whether Pelosi travels to Taiwan”.

International economies, with a side of CHIPS

Xi and Biden also spoke about the challenges facing the international economic outlook.

Xi rejected the idea that the U.S. should view China as its primary rival, and that “the most serious long-term challenge would be misperceiving China-U.S. relations”. He emphasised the need to maintain good channels of communication and to promote bilateral cooperation.

There had also been speculation that Biden was planning to decide on reducing tariffs imposed on China as part his predecessor Donald Trump’s trade war after the call, as reported by Bloomberg.

The White House rejected the idea that the conversation formed a critical part of Biden’s considerations, but did confirm that Biden explained to Xi concerns over what he perceived as China’s unfair economic practices.

Also of note was a discussion in the press briefing, but not the call, about the recently passed CHIPS act. The act gives US$52 billion (S$71.6 billion) to the U.S. semiconductor industry to build up semiconductor manufacturing infrastructure in the U.S., as well as US$200 billion (S$275.6 billion) for research. The act was passed in the senate, with 64 senators voting in favour and 33 voting in opposition -- a remarkable feat considering the high levels 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 sources of semiconductors", NPR reported. Taiwan, which is the epicentre of rising political tensions with China, produces the highest volume of advanced chips in the world.

Chinese state-backed media Global Times construed the act as a way to "encircle" China, which on top of being the world's largest consumer of semiconductors, is also trying to boost its domestic chip industry.

The White House did not say if the two leaders spoke about the issue, but did say that the U.S. government saw the act as very much about “strengthening from within” in order to compete with China.

Possible face to face meeting

Both leaders urged that their respective teams follow up with each other on their discussion topics, with both apparently noting “how much work they’d created for their teams”.

The White House also mentioned the possibility of a face-to-face meeting in the future, although it did not specify when or where.

Such a meeting could take place in the G20 Bali Summit November 2022. Indonesian President Joko Widodo was recently in Beijing where he personally invited Xi to attend. It is likely that Biden will also be in attendance.

Top image via White House/Flickr and Xinhua