Biden and Xi Jinping discuss Russia-Ukraine war, Taiwan, election security and counternarcotics

President Joe Biden held a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday morning to address U.S. concerns over China’s trade with Russia amid its war with Ukraine, the issues of cyberattacks and election interference, and efforts to counter illicit narcotics traffic, among other regional and global matters, a senior administration official said.

The “check-in” call between Biden and Xi — their first discussion since November — was an opportunity for them to talk about some tough issues and try to ensure that they are responsibly managing the competition between the two countries, the administration official said in a background call with reporters on Monday evening.

“Intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage tensions, address misperceptions and prevent unintended conflict, and this call is one way to do that,” the official said.

Xi Jinping and Joe Biden at the G20 Summit in Bali
Xi Jinping and Joe Biden at the G20 Summit in Bali, on Nov. 14, 2022. Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images file

China’s trade with Russia as that nation wages war against Ukraine is certain to come up, the official said, noting that the topic has been part of the diplomatic conversations between the U.S. and China since the start of the war. The official said the U.S. has grown more concerned over China helping to rebuild Russia’s defense industrial base.

The Biden administration has undertaken a whole-of-government effort to protect elections against foreign adversaries and continues to underscore its concerns with China and other countries, the official said, adding that it’s not enough to take the Chinese at their word when they say whether they will take action on that and other matters, but requires verification of Beijing’s efforts. The administration is also committed to conveying to the Chinese government the U.S. concerns about cyberattacks that compromise critical infrastructure.

The official said areas where interests align include counternarcotics, risk and safety issues related to artificial intelligence, re-establishing communication between U.S. and Chinese military leaders and climate issues. In his call with Xi, Biden was expected to emphasize the need for continued progress and substantive action on counternarcotics to address the rise of illicit narcotics trafficking.

The call was also an opportunity for Biden to reaffirm the longtime “One China” policy that recognizes Beijing as China’s only legal government amid Xi’s efforts to reunify Taiwan with mainland China, and to reiterate the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, especially with regard to the May presidential inauguration in Taiwan, the official said.

Biden could also raise concerns over China’s destabilizing actions in the South China Sea, including recent actions by Chinese coast guard ships that posed dangers to routine Philippine maritime operations, the official said.

While Biden and Xi last spoke over the phone in July 2022, the two leaders met in Bali in November 2022 and held a summit meeting in California in November of last year, the official said.

In a readout of the call, the White House said Biden and Xi held a “candid and constructive discussion on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including areas of cooperation and areas of difference.”

The leaders reviewed and encouraged progress on key issues, such as counternarcotics cooperation, military-to-military communication, artificial intelligence-related risks, efforts to address climate change, and people-to-people exchanges, the White House said.

Biden stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, raised concerns over China’s support for Russia’s defense industrial base and the impact for European and transatlantic security, and emphasized the U.S. commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Biden also said the U.S. will continue to take actions to prevent advanced U.S. technologies from being used to undermine national security, the White House said.

Biden and Xi expressed support for keeping channels of communication open through high-level diplomacy and working-level consultations in the coming weeks and months, including future visits by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

China’s state news agency Xinhua reported that Biden and Xi had a “candid and in-depth exchange” of views. Xi stressed that the issue of Taiwan is “the first insurmountable red line” in China-U.S. relations.

“We will not let the separatist activities and external connivance and support of the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces go unchecked,” the news agency reported Xi said. “We hope that the U.S. will implement Mr. President’s positive statement of not supporting ‘Taiwan independence’ into action.”

Xi also accused the U.S. of having “launched an endless stream of measures to suppress” China’s economy, trade, science and technology and noted the U.S. has a growing list of sanctions against Chinese companies.

“This is not ‘risk removal’ but creation of risk,” Xi reportedly said. “If the United States is willing to carry out mutually beneficial cooperation and share the dividends of China’s development, China’s door will always be open; if the United States insists on suppressing China’s high-tech development and depriving China of its legitimate right to development, we will not sit idly by.”

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