Biden and Xi Jinping hold phone call ahead of Yellen’s trip to China

Biden and Xi Jinping hold phone call ahead of Yellen’s trip to China

President Joe Biden spent nearly two hours on the phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday. The White House described this conversation as an opportunity for the two leaders to “check in” and responsibly manage the strained US-China relationship.

“Intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage tensions, address miscalculations and prevent inadvertent conflicts,” a senior administration official said in a call with reporters on Monday. “This call is one way to do that.”

During the call with Xi, the first such phone meeting since July 2022, Biden raised a number of American concerns, according to a White House readout of the call.

Specifically, Biden confronted Xi about China’s “unfair trade policies and non-market practices,” the White House said. The president also told Xi that he would continue to take “necessary measures” to block China’s access to U.S. technology if it poses a risk to national security.

In February, for example, Biden launched an investigation into Chinese smart cars, sparked by concerns that they could threaten U.S. national security by connecting to American infrastructure and extracting driver data.

On Tuesday’s call, Biden also raised his ongoing security concerns about TikTok and Congress’ proposal to force ByteDance, the social media app’s parent company, to sell the app to a U.S. company.

“He made it clear to President Xi that this is not about banning the application,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a White House briefing on Tuesday. “More of an interest in divestiture so that the national security interests and data security of the American people can be protected.”

Xi said “increasing” US trade restrictions on China are creating “risks” to the countries’ relations, according to a Chinese government statement following the call on Tuesday.

“China will not sit back and watch,” the statement said.

In addition to U.S.-China economic relations, the two leaders also discussed tensions over Taiwan and China’s support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

Xi stressed that “the Taiwan issue is the first red line that must not be crossed in US-China relations,” the Chinese government statement said.

Biden also highlighted the prospect of cybersecurity threats, particularly in the run-up to the US presidential election in November.

“We clearly express our concern that any country is interfering in or influencing our elections,” a senior administration official said on Monday.

The last time Biden and Xi met in person was in November on the sidelines of a summit in Woodside, California.

There, leaders agreed to resume military communications between the US and China. Since then, there have been several significant meetings and discussions between military leadership, with more expected later this year, the Biden administration official said.

“China-US relations are beginning to stabilize,” the Chinese government said on Tuesday. “On the other hand, the negative factors of the relationship have also increased.”

On Wednesday, Biden’s top economic envoy, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, is scheduled to leave for China for five days of face-to-face meetings with her counterparts in Guangzhou and Beijing. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also plans to visit China later this year.

“The U.S.-China economic relationship is undoubtedly on firmer footing now than it was two years ago,” a senior Treasury Department official said Monday in a news conference previewing Yellen’s trip. “We recognize that there are significant challenges and disagreements in this relationship and that these cannot be resolved overnight.”

In a speech last week, Yellen warned of her concerns about China’s overproduction of clean energy products such as solar panels, electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries. She said China is using that surplus to flood global markets and undercut prices in green industries that are still developing in countries like the United States.

Yellen said this was one of the issues she wanted to confront her Chinese counterparts about during her visit. The Chinese embassy in Washington later denied that there was excess capacity.

In recent weeks, the Treasury Department has also raised concerns about Beijing’s financial practices, particularly China’s alleged use of “early-stage” investments in U.S. technology companies as a means to access sensitive data.

Meetings like the one Yellen plans to hold are part of the Biden administration’s overall effort to stabilize relations between the superpowers after a years-long communications freeze. That collapse began with the Trump-era tariffs that sparked a near trade war and continued after Biden imposed his own trade restrictions on the country.

“Going back to the meeting last November, both President Biden and President Xi agreed that they would try to pick up the phone a little bit more,” the senior administration official said. “Both sides recognize that this is important to truly make relationships more responsible.”

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2024-04-02 18:55:43