U.S.-China Relations

Joe Biden, Xi Jinping meet virtually amid deepening U.S.-China divide

Published : November 16, 2021 16:55 IST

'I am very happy to see my old friend,' Xi told Biden at the start of the meeting. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

While talking to Joe Biden, China's Xi Jinping warned attempts to control China with Taiwan were "like playing with fire."

United States President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held virtual talks on November 15 amid mounting tensions between Washington and Beijing. Taiwan was high on the agenda, with Xi warning that the island's leaders are trying to "rely on the U.S. for independence."

"Some people in the U.S. intend to 'use Taiwan to control China,'" Xi was quoted as saying by state media agency Xinhua. "This trend is very dangerous and is like playing with fire, and those who play with fire will get burned."

U.S. wants 'stability' for Taiwan

Biden said the U.S. remained committed to the "One China" policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. "On Taiwan, President Biden underscored that the United States [...] strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," the White House statement said. In the face of what Washington has described as Chinese aggression, the U.S. has repeatedly signaled its support for Taiwan. But Washington is careful not to show it recognizes Taiwan, even though an act of Congress passed in 1979 requires the U.S. to provide weapons to the island for self-defense.

Beijing views the self-governing island as a Chinese province and has vowed to bring it under its control, by force if necessary. Chinese media also reported Xi saying it will take "decisive measures" if forces pushing for Taiwan's independence cross a "red line."

China has dispatched an increasing number of fighter jets near Taiwan, contributing to tensions and fears of a miscalculation that could trigger an unintended military conflict. "The Taiwan issue concerns China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as China's core interest," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on November 15. "It is the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations."

Xi says Biden is 'an old friend'

The two leaders also spoke about issues ranging from Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, said a statement from the White House. "President Biden raised concerns about the PRC’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly," according to U.S. officials. "We have a responsibility to the world and to our people," Biden said at the start of the meeting. He added that "all countries have to play by the same rules of the road."

The two leaders traveled together when both were vice presidents and know each other well, but they haven't had a face-to-face meeting since Biden became president. "I am very happy to see my old friend," Xi said at the start of the meeting. The Chinese leader told his U.S. counterpart the two sides should improve communication in light of global challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic. "I stand ready to work with you, Mr. President, to build consensus, take active steps and move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction,'' said Xi.

Biden calls for 'guardrails'

Biden called for "common sense guardrails" to avert any open conflict between the two nations. "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. Just simple, straightforward competition," Biden said at the start of the meeting.

Ahead of the talks, Biden promised to address areas of concern for Washington, including human rights and other issues in the Indo-Pacific region. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying described the talks as "wide-ranging, in-depth, candid, constructive, substantive and productive" on Twitter. In the run-up to the meeting, the White House set low expectations, saying that no major announcements or even a joint statement were anticipated.

The United States and China, the world's biggest economies, disagree on a number of issues, including trade, technology and competition rules, Beijing's military posturing in the South China Sea and its attitude toward Taiwan, as well as human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Talking to DW, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council Dexter Roberts said it was unlikely that the summit would bring "anything of real substance." "I think the challenges and disagreements in the relationship whether trade, Taiwan, or human rights are so vast that I don't think either side is going to compromise that the other side would like," he said. "I think it's really about reestablishing the conversation and relationship between Biden and Xi."

sri/jsi,dj (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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