WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping could celebrate their fifth call as leaders today, as concerns mount over a possible visit to China-claimed Taiwan the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
White House officials have said the long-planned call will have a broad agenda, including discussion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which China has yet to condemn.
In essence, US officials see the swap as another opportunity to manage competition between the world’s two largest economies, whose ties are increasingly clouded by tensions over Taiwan’s democratic government, which Xi has promised to reunite with the mainland. , by force if necessary.
Beijing has issued mounting warnings about repercussions if Pelosi visits Taiwan, a move that would be a dramatic, if not unprecedented, display of US support for the island, which it says faces growing military and economic threats from China.
Washington has no official relations with Taiwan and follows a “one China” policy that diplomatically recognizes Beijing, not Taipei. But he is required by US law to provide the island with the means to defend itself, and pressure has mounted in Congress for more explicit support.
“This is about keeping the lines of communication open with the president of China, one of the most important bilateral relationships that we have, not only in that region, but around the world, because it touches a lot,” said China’s national security spokesman. the White House. John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.
A person briefed on the planning of the call said the Biden administration believes leader-to-leader engagement is the best way to reduce tensions over Taiwan.
Xi has an interest in avoiding a tense confrontation with the United States as he seeks an unprecedented third term at a congress of China’s ruling Communist Party, expected in October or November, some analysts believe.
Biden also wants to discuss climate and economic competition issues, the person briefed said, as well as the idea of putting a cap on the price of Russian oil to punish Moscow for its war in Ukraine, an issue that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen , raised with his Chinese counterparts earlier in July.
The Biden administration has been debating whether to lift some tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to ease runaway inflation, but US officials have said a decision was not expected before the call.
When Biden last spoke to Xi in March, he warned of “consequences” if Beijing provided material support to Russia’s war, and the US government believes that red line has not been crossed in the months since.
The White House has reiterated that its “one China” policy has not changed despite speculation about a possible trip by Pelosi, which the president has yet to confirm.
The last time a US House Speaker visited Taiwan was in 1997, and as an equal arm of government, the US executive has little control over congressional travel.
China has since become more powerful militarily and economically, and some analysts fear such a visit at a time of strained ties could trigger a crisis in the 100-mile (160 km) wide Taiwan Strait waterway. that separates China and Taiwan.
“The relationship is in such a toxic state. Mutual mistrust is really at an all-time high. I think people don’t realize how dangerous this particular time is,” said Bonnie Glaser, China expert at the German Marshall. Fund of the United States.
He said that Biden and Xi needed to focus their call on de-escalation, including possible mechanisms to reduce the risk of setbacks.
Kirby said the administration has been in contact with Pelosi’s office to make sure she has “all the context” she needs to make decisions about her trip.
China has given few clues about the specific responses it might take if Pelosi, a longtime critic of China, particularly on human rights issues, goes to Taiwan.
Martin Chorzempa, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said playing on the Taiwan issue could serve Xi as a domestic distraction from China’s slowing economy, but “any reaction strong enough to trigger US sanctions . The worldwide economy.”
(Reporting by Michael Martina, Trevor Hunnicutt, and David Brunnstrom. Editing by Heather Timmons and Richard Pullin)