Biden talks to Xi as tension mounts in US-China relations

But hopes of significantly improving relations with Beijing are dim. Instead, Biden aides are hoping that maintaining a personal connection to Xi can, at most, stave off a miscalculation that could lead to a confrontation.

“It’s the kind of relationship that President Biden strongly believes in, even with nations you might have significant differences with,” National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby said this week.

The planning for Biden’s phone call with Xi preceded furor over Pelosi’s proposed visit to Taipei, after it had been in discussion for weeks. Biden is also currently considering whether to lift some Trump-era tariffs on China in a bid to curb inflation, though White House officials have said he has yet to make up his mind. and suggested the topic would not be heavily considered in his conversation with Xi. .

Instead, it is China’s escalating aggression in the region – including on Taiwan and the South China Sea – at the center of current tensions. US officials fear that without open lines of communication, misunderstandings could escalate into unintended conflict.

This includes how Beijing is reacting to Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan.

US and China on razor's edge over Taiwan ahead of Xi-Biden phone call
Administrative officials worked quietly last week convince the President of the Chamber of the risks inherent in visiting the autonomous island. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday he had spoken to Pelosi to provide his “assessment of the security situation.”

Pelosi made no announcement regarding his travel plans, which have not been finalized.

“I never talk about my trip. It’s a danger to me,” she said Wednesday.

Yet even the off-the-record word that the third in the US presidency was considering a visit to Taiwan drew an outsize response from Beijing, which views visits by senior US officials as a sign of diplomatic ties with the island.

“If the United States insists on going its own way, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and it will certainly take strong measures to thwart the interference of any outside force and the separatists’ plans for ‘independence’. of Taiwan “and resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said Tuesday in response to questions about Pelosi’s announced trip to Taipei.

The White House called the comments “unnecessary” and “useless”, saying the rhetoric only escalated tensions “in a totally unnecessary way”.

They also revealed what US officials said was a misunderstanding by Chinese officials about the significance of Pelosi’s potential visit. Officials said China may be confusing Pelosi’s visit with an official administration visit because she and Biden are Democrats. Administration officials worry China may not separate Pelosi from Biden much, if at all.

This adds pressure to Biden’s call with Xi. Officials were cautious about whether Pelosi’s visit would happen or how much of that would factor into the conversation. But China’s apparent confusion over the differences between the White House and Congress could inject a level of personal animosity into the talks.

Administration officials’ concerns about Pelosi’s trip are partly rooted in his timing. It would come at a particularly tense time, with the upcoming Chinese Communist Party congress in which Xi is set to seek an unprecedented third term, putting pressure on Beijing’s leaders to show strength. Chinese party officials are expected to begin laying the groundwork for this conference in the coming weeks.

With China recently reporting its worst economic performance in two years, Xi finds himself in a politically sensitive situation ahead of the important meeting.

Biden and Xi spent many hours in each other’s company when each was their country’s vice president, traveling across China and the United States to form a bond. However, they have yet to meet face to face as presidential counterparts as Xi mostly avoids travel during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That could change in November, when a series of summits in Asia – including the Group of 20 in Bali and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bangkok – provide the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting. People familiar with the matter said US officials were seeking to arrange such a meeting on the sidelines of one of the summits.

Biden last spoke with Xi in March, when he worked to convince the Chinese leader not to support Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. Officials have been watching Beijing’s reaction to the invasion closely, hoping the mostly united Western response – including a devastating set of economic sanctions and billions of dollars in arms shipments – will prove illuminating. as China contemplates its actions towards Taiwan.

US officials believe there is a small risk that China will miscalculate in responding to a possible visit by Pelosi. Biden administration officials fear China may seek to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan ahead of a possible visit in a bid to reverse the trip, which could further heighten tensions in the region, a source said. a US official told CNN.

That remains a remote possibility, officials said. They say China is more likely to step up flights in Taiwan’s self-declared air defense zone, which could trigger further discussions about possible responses from Taiwan and the United States, the US official added. They did not specify what those possible answers would entail.

CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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