WASHINGTON – President Biden held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday evening, raising concerns about Beijing’s aggressive overseas policies and human rights violations at home in the first conversation between the two leaders since the election of Mr. Biden.
Regarding what could be the most important foreign relationship of his presidency, Mr Biden has issued the warnings while offering to cooperate on global priorities of mutual concern.
In a summary of the call, the White House said Mr. Biden “had underlined his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, the crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the increasingly assertive actions in the region, including towards Taiwan. . But the leaders also discussed “the common challenges of global health security, climate change and preventing the proliferation of weapons,” according to the summary.
According to the official Chinese account of the two leaders’ appeal, released by Xinhua, Xi warned Biden that the two powers must cooperate or risk calamity, and gave no sign of ceding ground to Xinjiang. , Hong Kong or Taiwan.
“When China and the United States cooperate, the two sides win, and when they fight, both are wronged,” Xi said, according to the Chinese summary. “Sino-US cooperation can achieve many great things that benefit both countries and the world. The confrontation between China and the United States would certainly be a disaster for both countries and the world. “
Xi said the two countries could also open more contacts in the economic, financial, police and military spheres, and called for the “re-establishment” of dialogue to promote mutual understanding and “to avoid misunderstandings and errors of judgment. “. Increased cooperation, he added, would also help tackle the coronavirus pandemic, revive the world economy and maintain regional stability.
But Xi warned Biden to exercise caution in what he described as “China’s domestic affair,” according to Xinhua. “On matters concerning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” Xi said, referring to Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, “the US side should respect China’s fundamental interests and act with it. caution.
Despite this being their first conversation since becoming their respective country’s rulers, Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi know each other well. In 2011 and 2012, when Mr. Biden was vice president and Mr. Xi was the alleged heir to the Chinese presidency, the two spent dozens of hours together. In a recent interview with CBS News, Biden said he believed he spent more time with Xi than with any other world leader. “I know him pretty well,” Biden said.
Mr Biden’s personal approach to Mr Xi is likely to be a marked departure from that of President Donald J. Trump, who spent his first three years in office giving the Chinese leader praise and flattery in pursuit of a big trade deal he never reached, before turning bitterly on him last spring after the coronavirus left China and devastated the US economy.
All the while, Mr. Trump’s advisers have treated China as the main strategic threat to the United States. At the end of Mr. Trump’s presidency, foreign policy experts generally agreed that relations between Washington and Beijing were nearing their lowest point since the Communist Revolution of 1949. But most also believe that the two countries have no choice but to cooperate on issues such as trade, climate change and the global economy.
While Mr Biden and Mr Xi drew up some sort of rapport during Obama’s time, Mr Biden also sharply criticized his counterpart, who, shortly after assuming the Chinese presidency in 2013, launched a harsh crackdown. politics in his country and pursued aggressive territorial claims. in East Asia.
“He’s very bright,” Biden told CBS of Mr. Xi. “He’s very tough. He doesn’t – and I don’t mean this is a criticism, just the reality – he doesn’t have a democratic little bone in his body.
Mr Biden said he and the Chinese president “don’t need to have a conflict”, but warned that “there will be extreme competition”.
“I’m not going to do it like Trump did,” Biden added. “We will focus on the international rules of the road.”
In a briefing for reporters ahead of the call, senior officials in the Biden administration made this point clear. They said Mr. Biden would continue some of the Trump administration’s confrontational policies towards Beijing, including challenging Chinese territorial claims in Asia, defending Taiwan independence and Hong Kong autonomy. Kong, and China’s crackdown on cyber-theft and hacking. Administration officials have said their approach will be more effective than Mr. Trump’s with renewed ties to traditional American allies with whom Mr. Trump has often chosen to fight.
They said they would retain Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States while carrying out a broad review of U.S.-China trade policy.
Competitive work with Beijing would begin at home, officials said, with their efforts to defeat the coronavirus and rebuild the U.S. economy, including by bolstering next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and 5G networks, in which the China threatens to take the lead.
They also called it crucial to restore America’s damaged political institutions and its reputation as an advocate for human rights and democracy, areas in which Mr. Trump was often indifferent.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Biden announced sanctions against Myanmar’s ruling generals for their role in a military coup this month, an action by senior officials described as a clear demonstration of the renewed commitment of the states- United for democracy abroad – in this case, in China’s backyard.
And during an afternoon visit to the Pentagon, the president announced the creation of a Department of Defense task force to review U.S. military policies toward China. He will report on his findings by the summer.
Perhaps reflecting Mr. Biden’s tough campaign message about China and its leadership, Mr. Xi was one of the last world leaders to publicly congratulate Biden on his victory. He was also one of the last great leaders to speak to the new US president after his election.
This composure is a far cry from the friendly tone the men adopted in their numerous meetings in the United States and China under the Obama administration. During a 2013 trip Mr. Biden took to Beijing, Mr. Xi addressed him in the Great Hall of the People as “my old friend.”
Chris Buckley contribution to reports.