China’s Xi Jinping warns US, Taiwan are ‘playing with fire’

BEIJING – China on Tuesday welcomed a virtual meeting between President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden as raising hopes for a better relationship, while the US remained quieter in the talks. as the world’s two biggest powers seek to prolong more than a year of tension.

The leaders appeared to have brushed off harsh language in their first formal meeting since Biden took office. Xi welcomed the US leader as his “old friend”, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the exchange was candid and constructive.

“If Sino-US relations cannot go back to the way they were, they should face the future,” Zhao said, calling the meeting “beneficial to raising positive expectations for US-China relations.”

However, both sides have stood firm on issues that divide Washington and Beijing, with Xi warning that the US and Taiwan are toying with the self-governing island claimed by China. sovereignty.

The two countries are working towards ending a significant deterioration in relations that have grown rapidly under former US President Donald Trump and have been broken since Mr. Biden became president in January. The video meeting, which took place on Tuesday morning in Beijing and Monday evening in Washington, lasted more than three hours.

Faced with domestic pressure at home, both Biden and Xi seem determined to cool down the most important — and often tumultuous — relationship for both sides on the global stage.

“As I have said before, for me it is our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States to ensure that competition between our countries does not turn into conflict. , whether on purpose or not,” Biden told Xi at the start. meeting. “Simple, straightforward competition.”

The White House set low expectations for the meeting, and no major announcements or joint statements were made. However, White House officials said the two leaders had a substantive exchange.

Mr. Xi greeted the US President as an “old friend” of his and repeated Mr. Biden’s cordial tone in his own opening remarks, saying that “China and the United States need to strengthen communication and cooperate.”

The positive tone sets an example for both countries to try to identify common ground instead of finding fault with each other, whether on trade, climate change or other issues, said Wang Huiyao, president of the China Center. geopolitical issues like Afghanistan and North Korea. and the Globalization Consultancy in Beijing,

“I consider this dialogue a stabilizing factor in bilateral relations,” he said. “I don’t expect a summit like this to take us back to the good old days, but it will certainly stop the downward spiral.”

Mr. Xi has taken a tough stance on Taiwan, which Chinese officials have said will be the top issue for them at the talks. Tensions have risen as the Chinese military has sent more and more fighter jets closer to the self-governing island that Beijing considers part of its territory.

Xinhua said Mr Xi blamed tensions on Taiwan seeking independence through dependence on the US and that some US sides used Taiwan as a way to attract interests in China. .

“This is extremely dangerous, it is playing with fire, and they will burn themselves,” Xi was quoted as saying by the agency.

Chinese military forces held exercises last week near Taiwan in response to a visit by a US congressional delegation to the island.

The White House said Biden reiterated that the United States would abide by the longstanding “One China” policy of the US, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal and defense relations with Taipei. But Biden also made clear that the United States “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to alter the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the White House said.

Relations have not lacked strain since Biden entered the White House in January and was quick to criticize Beijing for its human rights abuses against the Uighurs in northwest China, its crackdown on political protests, and its repression. pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, military aggression against self-ruled Taiwan and more. Meanwhile, Xi’s deputies have attacked the Biden White House for meddling in what they see as China’s internal affairs.

The White House in a statement said that Biden once again raised concerns about China’s human rights practices and made clear that he sought to “protect American workers and industries from commercial and unfair economy of the People’s Republic of China”. The two sides also talked about important regional challenges, including North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.

As US-China tensions mount, both leaders also find themselves bearing the weight of growing challenges in their own backyards.

Biden, who has watched his poll numbers dwindle amid concerns about the lingering coronavirus pandemic, inflation and supply chain issues, is looking to balance on the foreign policy issue due to the pandemic. consequences he had to face.

Meanwhile, Xi is facing a resurgence of COVID-19, rampant energy shortages and a looming housing crisis that Biden officials fear could send shockwaves through the market. global school.

The President of the United States was in the Roosevelt Room for a video call by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and several aides. For his part, Xi was accompanied by Communist Party director Ding Xuexiang and several advisers in the East Room of the Great Hall of the People.

High-level diplomacy related to the pandemic Zoom had an informal meeting when the two leaders waved to each other when they saw each other on the screen, and Mr. Xi told Biden, “This is the first time we have met.” virtual meeting, although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting.”

Biden should have wanted to meet Xi in person, but the Chinese leader hasn’t left his country since the coronavirus pandemic began. The White House floated the idea of ​​a virtual meeting as the next best thing to allowing the two leaders to have a candid conversation about the range of tensions in the relationship.

With Beijing gearing up to host the Winter Olympics in February and Mr. Xi expected to be approved by Communist Party leaders to serve as party leader next year and then a term as president. Tuesday in 2023 – unprecedented in recent Chinese history – the Chinese leader may look forward to stabilizing the relationship in the near term.

Both leaders nodded about their history to the other. Biden noted that the two spent “terrible … a lot” talking to each other over the years, and never left “wondering what the other man was thinking”.

But public enthusiasm – Mr. Xi called Biden his “old friend” when the then vice president visited China in 2013, while Biden spoke of their “friendship” – cooled when both are heads of state. In June, Biden fumed when asked by a reporter if he wanted to urge his old friend to cooperate with a World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

However, Mr. Xi seems interested in publicly reviving the warm bond of the early days of their relationship, saying, “I’m happy to see my old friend again.”

Despite the tensions, the US-China relationship has made strides in recent months.

Last week, the two countries pledged at the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, to strengthen cooperation and speed up action to rein in climate-damaging emissions.

The White House said it views cooperation on climate change as something China is interested in, something the two nations should cooperate with despite differences on other aspects of the relationship.

“This is not in the interest of either of our countries – what we do for each other – it’s just responsible world leadership,” Biden told Xi. “You are a great leader in the world, and so is the United States.”


Madhani reports from Washington, DC Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington, DC, contributed


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