Biden talks to Xi about conflicts, from Ukraine to the Pacific

President Biden spoke with Xi Jinping, China's leader, on Tuesday morning in a call that aimed to address a wide range of combative and cooperative issues as the United States grapples with wars and other global crises, according to a House statement White.

Topics on Biden's agenda included combating narcotics production, conflict in the Middle East and China's support for Russia during the war in Ukraine, a senior administration official said.

Biden intended the conversation to be a “check-in” rather than a summit with concrete deliverables, said the official, who spoke to a small group of reporters Monday evening on condition of anonymity, as is customary for such briefings in Washington. . But it was a crucial signal during a crucial political year and as the countries try to stabilize a relationship that hit a multi-decade low last year.

The call came days before Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen's trip to China, which will be followed soon after by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, the official said. These would be the first visits to China by Cabinet members this year; both officials went to Beijing last year to stabilize relations after tempers flared during the China spy balloon episode.

Since last summer, Biden and Xi have sought to prevent any clashes between their nations. Biden is trying to focus on his close race for re-election this year. Xi is grappling with a host of domestic problems, including a struggling economy and corruption at the top of his military.

Biden and Xi held a face-to-face summit in November at a lush estate in Woodside, outside San Francisco. The two also met in November 2022 in Bali, Indonesia – their first in-person summit as national leaders – and had their final call in July 2022.

The senior U.S. official told reporters Tuesday's call was part of the administration's efforts toward modest goals of maintaining contact and managing competition “responsibly.”

Biden plans to raise two issues about Chinese aggression in the Pacific: Taiwan and the South China Sea, the official said.

The Biden administration has warned China to rein in its coast guard ships, which have fired water cannons at Philippine supply ships in a disputed area of ​​the South China Sea. And the United States has said the Chinese military is using planes and ships provocatively near Taiwan, the de facto independent island whose status is the biggest sticking point between Washington and Beijing.

However, Biden also planned to reiterate to Xi that the United States sticks to the “one China policy,” which recognizes the People's Republic of China as China's sole legitimate government, without saying anything about Taiwan's status.

Like previous Chinese leaders, Xi has said Taiwan must be brought under Communist Party rule, by force if necessary. Biden has said four times that US troops will defend Taiwan if China tries to invade. Those remarks were a departure from the U.S. government's decades-long efforts to leave ambiguous whether the U.S. military would defend Taiwan from a Chinese assault.

Joseph Wu, Taiwan's foreign minister, said in an interview with the New York Times in Taipei on Thursday that China has steadily increased its military activity around Taiwan, as well as its cyber espionage efforts and promotion of disinformation online, all equivalent to “grey local aggressions” before a real war. “We need the United States to work more closely with Taiwan,” he said.

The US official said Biden wanted to stress to Xi that China must not continue to help Russia rebuild its military-industrial base. Russian weapons production has been robust despite economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries after President Vladimir V. Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Steady production of munitions and missiles , as well as weapons aid from North Korea and Iran help Russia in Ukraine.

China has regained some trade areas that European nations had cut off, and that has allowed Russia to rebuild its weapons production capabilities, the official said.

Biden also wanted Xi to help curb attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Yemen's Houthi forces, an Iran-backed military group that says it will continue attacks as long as Israel carries out its war with Hamas in Gaza, he said. said the American official. The Biden administration has been pressuring China to ask Iran to rein in the Houthis, especially as Chinese ships also pass through the Red Sea.

The official said Biden would like to further cooperate with China on several issues: limiting the export of chemicals used to make fentanyl, senior-level military talks, discussions on artificial intelligence and climate change policy.

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