Can't connect right now! retry
world
Thursday Feb 11 2021
By
Reuters

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping hold first phone call amid tense relations

By
Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with then US Vice President Joe Biden inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 4, 2013. Photo: Reuters/File

  • White House says Biden spoke about Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and Beijing's increasingly assertive actions in region
  • Xi tells Biden that confrontation would be “disaster” between two countries, calls for re-establishing means to avoid misjudgments
  • Biden administration likely to continue tough approach taken by Donald Trump against China.


WASHINGTON/BEIJING: In first telephone call, US President Joe Biden tells Chinese President Xi Jinping to maintain free and open Indo-Pacific, Xi warns that confrontation between two powers would be a ‘disaster’.

Biden also underscored his “fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair practices, its crackdown in Hong Kong, reported human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan”, the White House said in a statement.

Xi told Biden that confrontation would be a “disaster” and the two sides should re-establish the means to avoid misjudgments, according to the Chinese foreign ministry’s account of the call, which took place on Thursday morning in Beijing time but Wednesday evening in the United States.

The Chinese leader maintained a hardline tone regarding Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, which Xi told Biden were matters of “sovereignty and territorial integrity” that he hopes the United States will approach cautiously.

Read more: China imposes sanctions on 28 US individuals as Trump leaves White House

Taiwan’s government, which has complained of China’s repeated military drills near the Chinese-claimed and democratic island, thanked Biden for expressing his concern.

The telephone call was the first call between Xi and a US president since the Chinese leader spoke with former President Donald Trump in March last year. Since then, relations between the two countries have plunged to their worst level in decades, with Trump blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Trump administration, the United States launched a series of actions against China, including a trade war, sanctions against Chinese officials and firms perceived to be security threats and challenging Beijing’s South China Sea territorial claims.

Xi congratulated Biden on his election in a message in November, even though Biden had called him a “thug” during the campaign and vowed to lead an international effort to “pressure, isolate and punish China.”

Chinese officials have expressed cautious optimism that bilateral relations will improve under Biden and urged Washington to meet Beijing halfway.

Read more: US officials to get sanctioned for 'nasty behaviour' over Taiwan, says China

The US and Chinese read outs of the call mentioned areas for potential cooperation, with both honing in on climate change and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You have said that America can be defined in one word: Possibilities. We hope the possibilities will now point toward an improvement of China-US relations,” Xi told Biden, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.

No change in US-China policy

The Biden administration has made it clear that it will continue to maintain pressure on China, however, although it has also pledged to take a more multilateral approach.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters ahead of the telephone call that Biden would be “practical, hard-headed, clear-eyed” in dealings with Xi, but wanted to ensure they had the opportunity to have an open line of communication, despite US concerns about Chinese behavior.

The official said the call came at a time when the United States believed it was in a position of strength, after consultations with allies and partners, to lay out core concerns about China’s “aggressive activities and abuses”.

Read more: China congratulates Joe Biden, Kamala Harris on US Election 2020 win

The Biden administration will look in coming months at adding “new targeted restrictions” on certain sensitive technology exports to China in cooperation with allies and partners, the official said. He also said there would be no quick moves to lift the tariffs the former Trump administration left in place against Chinese imports.

The call came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone to top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Friday. That was the first announced high-level exchange between top diplomats from the two countries since former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Yang in Hawaii last June.

In his call, Blinken said Washington would stand up for human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong — all issues Yang had days earlier said the United States should stay out of.

Biden has said Beijing is Washington’s “most serious competitor”, and his administration has indicated it will broadly continue the tough approach taken by Trump.