Xi warns Biden not to ‘play with fire’ ahead of Nancy Pelosi’s possible trip to Taiwan

Xi Jinping warned Joe Biden not to “play with fire” as the Chinese and US presidents spoke for the first time since Beijing was angered by a possible visit to Taiwan by the speaker of the House of Representatives , Nancy Pelosi.

In a statement posted on the Chinese foreign ministry website after the two leaders spoke on Thursday, Xi did not directly mention Pelosi’s possible visit but said his administration would “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity of China”.

“Those who play with fire will die by it. The US is expected to be clear-eyed on this,” the Chinese president added. China’s foreign ministry also quoted Biden as saying that Washington’s one-China policy had not changed and that his administration did not support the independence of the self-governing island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.

Asked whether the United States interpreted the comments as a threat, a senior administration official said China had previously used the metaphor when talking about Taiwan.

The Biden administration said the conversation between the leaders was part of an effort to keep rising tensions between the two countries at bay. During the call, Biden and Xi told their teams to schedule a face-to-face meeting with each other, a senior US administration official said.

In its own account of the call, the White House also avoided mentioning Pelosi’s possible visit. However, he said Biden “stressed that US policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability in the Straits from Taiwan”.

The official said the conversation about Taiwan was “straightforward and honest.”

“The two leaders basically discussed the fact that the United States and China have differences regarding Taiwan, but they have managed them for more than 40 years,” the official said, “and that maintaining an open line of communication on this issue is essential. to continue to do so.”

A senior administration official declined to say whether Biden brought up Pelosi’s planned visit during the call with Xi.

The White House said the call lasted two hours and the leaders discussed Taiwan, Russia’s war in Ukraine and areas of possible cooperation, including climate change, health security and the fight against narcotics.

Biden also raised the cases of Americans who have been wrongfully detained and subject to exit bans and other human rights concerns, the senior administration official said.

The call was the first by the leaders since March, when tensions were also rising in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Xi met with Vladimir Putin shortly before the Russian president sent his army into Ukraine and has tacitly supported Moscow throughout the conflict.

Beijing sees trips to Taiwan by US lawmakers as a contravention of Washington’s “one China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as China’s sole government. Pelosi would be the most senior US lawmaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

Pelosi’s plans earlier this year to visit Taiwan were postponed when she contracted Covid-19. His office has not yet confirmed the dates of his August trip, which Biden said had raised concerns among US military commanders.

“China-US relations are pretty bad in all aspects,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. He added that the People’s Liberation Army would likely take “necessary countermeasures” if Pelosi continued with her trip, but said China would still try to “avoid full and direct military confrontation with the US.”

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan transited the South China Sea earlier this month before docking in Singapore on July 22. It then canceled a planned port call in Vietnam before sailing back to the disputed sea, where China is embroiled in a series of long seas. territorial disputes with their maritime neighbors.

Biden and Xi did not discuss the South China Sea in depth, but Biden broadly addressed Washington’s concerns that China’s “activities are at odds with the rules-based international order,” the senior official said of the administration.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, on Wednesday reiterated Beijing’s “firm opposition” to Pelosi’s potential trip to Taiwan.

“If the US side insists on the visit and defies China’s red line, it will be met with resolute countermeasures,” Zhao said. “The US must take full responsibility for any serious consequences.”

Wen-Ti Sung, a China expert at the Australian National University, said Beijing’s stance before Thursday’s call had been “tough but far from the toughest”, likely reflecting that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party was still deciding how to react if Pelosi does not cancel the visit.

Taiwan officials are concerned that any Chinese countermeasures would likely be directed against the island. But they also fear Xi will be emboldened if Pelosi postpones or cancels her trip.

“[Taiwan and the US] I don’t want to show weakness,” said one Asian diplomat, who asked not to be identified. “I don’t think anyone wants to be dictated to by Beijing.”

The planned visit also comes at an awkward time for Xi, who is preparing for a five-year party congress in the coming months in which he is expected to win an unprecedented third term as head of the party, state and the army

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu and Maiqi Ding in Beijing

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