‘Confrontation’ would be a ‘disaster,’ Xi warns Biden

Big two chat about the challenges facing the US and China as relations remain strained

President Xi Jinping has warned the United States that “confrontation” with China would be a “disaster.” With relations tense between the two economic superpowers, he outlined the usual “red lines” in his first telephone chat with US President Joe Biden.

Xi described human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang province “internal affairs,” adding that the fate of Taiwan was linked to China’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In response, Biden “underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices.” He also raised the Taiwan issue and China’s bullying tactics in the South and East China Seas, according to the White House.

The facts:

  • Xi said that “cooperation” was “the only correct choice for the two nations.”
  • It was important that the US and China “treat each other with respect.”
  • They should also “manage” their “differences in a constructive manner,” the official state-run Xinhua News Agency revealed.
  • Biden and Xi still remain an ocean apart on Taiwan and human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.
  • Hong Kong is another major flashpoint.
  • The pro-democracy movement in the former British colony has been ruthlessly crushed under the guise of a national security law imposed by Beijing.
  • As for Taiwan, it is considered a renegade province.
  • China has made it clear that a declaration of independence by the democratic island would mean “war.”
  • A claim by Washington of “unfair economic practices” by Beijing is another sticking point.

Xi on the US: “Cooperation is the only correct choice for the two nations. Confrontation is definitely a disaster. The Taiwan question and issues relating to Hong Kong [and] Xinjiang are China’s internal affairs and concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said as reported by Xinhua.

Biden on China: “[He] affirmed his priorities of protecting the American people’s security, [as well as] preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific. [He also] underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, [the] crackdown in Hong Kong [and] human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Assertive action in the region [by Beijing], including Taiwan, [was also discussed],” a White House statement said.

Reaction to the news: “A resumption of exchanges is definitely good, but the majority of the conversation was [a] sharp confrontation, albeit more polite and civil now that [former US President Donald] Trump is no longer in office. There is space for cooperation, such as climate change, and while that is positive, it is far from being significant. How can one phone call resolve any of these problems?,” Shi Yinhong, who specializes in international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said as reported by the South China Morning Post.

Key development: Before the meeting took place, Biden announced that the Pentagon would review its China strategy. That will include intelligence, technology and Washington’s presence in the region. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin briefed the US president on Wednesday about the new China task force and the challenges posed by Beijing.

China Factor comment: There might have been an exchange of greetings to celebrate Chinese New Year during Biden’s chat with Xi, but very little else has changed. The White House is already looking at adding “new targeted restrictions” on technology exports to the world’s second-largest economy. There will also be “intense consultation” with Washington’s “allies” before a decision is made on the trade tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, according to a senior White House official. Pressure politics looks here to stay.