WASHINGTON (AP) — Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will speak Thursday, a U.S. official said, their first conversation in four months amid renewed tension between Washington and Beijing over China’s claims on Taiwan.
The planned talks between the two leaders – the fifth in a series of regular checks – have been ongoing for weeks. But the possibility of a visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress and second in line for the presidency, has added new pressure to the complicated relationship.
Beijing warns it will take “strong action” if Pelosi travels to the self-governing island of Taiwan which China claims as part of its territory.
The US official declined to be identified ahead of the public announcement. The timeline was first reported by Bloomberg.
Pelosi has not confirmed plans to travel to Taiwan, but Biden told reporters last week that US military officials believe it was ‘not a good idea’ for the speaker to travel to the island. for the moment. Biden’s comments came after the Financial Times reported last week that Pelosi was planning to visit Taiwan in August, a trip she had originally planned to take in April but postponed after testing positive for COVID-19. .
The speaker declined to say if she plans to travel to Taiwan, citing security protocol while traveling. But she said Biden’s comment stemmed from the fact that senior military brass were “afraid that our plane might be shot down, or something, by the Chinese.” She would be the highest-ranking American lawmaker to visit Taiwan since Republican Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997 when he was Speaker of the House.
“It’s important for us to show our support for Taiwan,” Pelosi said. “None of us ever said we were for independence when it comes to Taiwan. It’s up to Taiwan to decide.
Administration officials privately pointed out to Pelosi that traveling to Taiwan could further complicate a delicate status quo.
Chinese officials are outspoken, sending the message that a visit by Pelosi would be seen as a shift in US policy and treated as a provocation.
“If the United States insists on going its own way, China will take strong measures to resolutely respond to and counter them, and we will do what we say,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. .
The United States has a long-standing commitment to the “One China” policy which recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. China has stepped up its military provocations against Taiwan in recent years, and there are fears it is trying to bully the island into agreeing to Beijing’s demands to unite with the communist mainland.
The talks between Biden and Xi could also include a discussion of North Korea’s nuclear program, differences between Beijing and Washington over Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the agreement on the Iranian nuclear power plant and the status of the US administration’s review of imposed tariffs. on China by the Trump administration.
“There are issues of tension in this relationship,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday. “But there are also issues where we believe cooperation is not only possible, but mandatory, for example on climate change, which affects us enormously.”
Long-simmering disputes over Taiwan have intensified following the Russian invasion and ongoing efforts to annex swaths of eastern Ukraine.
As the United States rushed to assemble a global coalition to hit the Russian economy with heavy sanctions following Vladimir Putin’s ordered invasion of Ukraine, Biden warned his allies — especially those in the ‘Indo-Pacific – that Beijing would closely monitor the reaction of democracies as it considers its next steps in Taiwan.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday he feared Beijing was learning “worrying” lessons from the five-month war in Eastern Europe. But he suggested the moment also led to deep thinking in Taipei.
“Fewer people are asking ‘Is Taiwan learning from Ukraine?’ and you can bet they are,” Sullivan said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum. “They learn from citizen mobilization and territorial defence. They learn lessons about information warfare and how to define the information space. And they are learning lessons on how to prepare for a possible eventuality involving China and they are working on it quickly.
Taiwan was a central topic during Biden and Xi’s last call in March, about three weeks after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
China has repeatedly threatened to assert its claim to Taiwan by force and has conducted hundreds of sorties into Taiwanese airspace since Biden took office 18 months ago. The United States is legally obligated to ensure that the self-governing island democracy can defend itself and treats threats to it with great concern.
The conversation also comes as Biden’s national security and economic aides near completion of a review of U.S. tariff policy and prepare to make recommendations to the president.
Tariffs imposed under President Donald Trump applied a 25% duty on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods. The sanctions were aimed at reducing the US trade deficit and forcing China to adopt fairer practices.