On the Brink: China Tells US to Step Forward on Taiwan
President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping offered starkly divergent views on the future of U.S.-China relations during three hours of closed-door talks on Monday. The dynamics of the meeting, preceded by a warm handshake, quickly imposed themselves: the American president called for a return to greater bilateral engagement while the Chinese leader bluntly warned the United States to back down and not to cross their “red lines” regarding Taiwan and other issues.
According to the White House’s official reading, Mr Biden has emphasized avoiding conflict with what critics say in an increasingly aggressive China. The message: Washington does not want a “new cold war” in Asia and seeks to lower the temperature through more talks and re-engagement aimed at easing tensions.
Xi said the world was facing a historic turning point and demanded that the United States accept China’s communist system and its drive to rejuvenate the nation.
The Chinese leader has bluntly warned the United States that resolving disputes over Taiwan remains a flashpoint for potential conflict, the Chinese government said in a statement.
According to post-meeting statements from both sides, the talks were at times notable for issues that were not raised, including topics that might have made the Chinese leader uncomfortable. Neither the US nor Chinese statements mentioned whether the talks touched on the controversy over China’s role in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and Beijing’s obstruction of international investigations for years to find the origin. of the virus.
China’s large-scale military buildup — particularly the rapid expansion of its nuclear missile arsenal — was also not mentioned as a topic of discussion during the nearly three-hour talks on the sidelines of an economic summit in Bali, Indonesia.
World events beyond bilateral relations also clouded the meeting. The commander of US Strategic Command, Admiral Charles Richard, said this month that the Russian-Ukrainian war could be the prelude to a major conflict with China over Taiwan.
According to the White House, Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden have agreed that nuclear war should not be fought and cannot be won. They also opposed Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
“President Biden has explained that the United States will continue to compete vigorously with the PRC, including investing in sources of strength at home and aligning efforts with allies and partners around the world,” the White House said in a statement. a press release reading the talks using the acronym People’s Republic of China. Mr Biden told the Chinese leader that the US-China competition should not “veer into conflict” and should be managed and discussed through open lines of communication.
At a press conference after the meeting, Mr Biden said the tensions should not lead to a new Cold War.
“We have been upfront and clear with each other at every level,” Biden said. “And I don’t think there is an imminent attempt by China to invade Taiwan.” US policy towards Taiwan “has not changed at all”, he insisted.
Mr Biden has said four times that the United States would defend Taiwan from Chinese attack, a policy suggested by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
“I made it clear that we wanted to see cross-Strait issues resolved peacefully…and I’m sure he understood exactly what I was saying. I understood what he was saying. »
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Beijing in the future for talks on cooperation with China, the White House said. In a news, Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden said they allow regular high-level dialogue through a number of working groups on the issues – contacts that China has cut off amid tensions over Taiwan were increasing.
US-China relations have changed dramatically under the Trump administration. This administration has abandoned decades-old policies aimed at engaging China economically and politically while ignoring Beijing’s cyber espionage, increased military expansion into the South China Sea and into Taiwan and Japan, and support for rogue states such as than North Korea.
Despite some pre-election expectations, Mr. Biden retained and even expanded many of the Trump administration’s hardline policies on China. Yet he and his aides have always insisted that they also favor greater cooperation with Beijing on issues of common concern such as climate change.
China halted bilateral climate talks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August. In response to the visit, the Chinese military staged its biggest war games in decades around the island, including firing nearly a dozen ballistic missiles into nearby waters.
In September, the administration said it would maintain Trump-era tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods imported from China pending a review.
At times, Mr. Xi played the role of the aggrieved party, arguing that US measures on issues such as Taiwan, trade and economic decoupling were the main causes of rising tensions. The Chinese leader told the US president that the current relationship is not “consistent with the fundamental interests of the two countries and the two peoples”.
Mr Xi warned that the United States must “explore the right way for the two countries to get along in the new era” – a reference to China’s growing global power and influence.
He said bilateral relations should be pushed back “on the path of healthy and stable development.”
Describing Taiwan as the “core of China’s fundamental interests”, Xi said the issue was the “insurmountable first red line” in US-China relations. “Resolving the Taiwan issue is the business of the Chinese people and China’s internal affairs,” Xi told Biden, according to an official statement. “Anyone who wants to separate Taiwan from China is against Chinese national justice, and the Chinese people will never agree!”
Xi said China hoped to maintain peace and stability in the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait, but warned that formal independence for the island state was incompatible with peace and stability.
Lyle Goldstein, director of Asia engagement for the Defense Priorities group, said statements from the meeting showed a dramatic divergence in policies on Taiwan and Ukraine.
“On the first, the United States highlighted an agreement that nuclear weapons should not be used, while the Chinese reading did not mention nuclear weapons, simply stating that there were no winners,” Mr. Goldstein said.
“On Taiwan, Biden raised objections to China’s ‘increasingly aggressive actions’ against Taiwan. Xi countered by describing Taiwan as China’s internal affair and a “fundamental interest”, explicitly using the term “red line” to suggest that China is willing to risk conflict over Taiwan”.
The Chinese leader also defended China’s communist system, which he called a “democracy” supported by China’s 1.4 billion people and which the United States should not try to change.
“These differences did not start today, and they will continue tomorrow and beyond,” he said. “One of the most important things in the relationship between China and the United States is recognizing and respecting this difference.”
Xi said accepting the differences between the two systems is one of the most important aspects of bilateral relations, “rather than forcing the same, trying to change or even subvert the system of the other”.
How Mr. Biden’s restrained rhetoric and calls for greater cooperation will play out on Capitol Hill is uncertain. Support for Taiwan and toughness on Beijing have strong bilateral support in Congress.
“Joe Biden has again failed to address or even acknowledge China’s Cold War against the United States,” said Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas. “His naive return to a policy of appeasement will hurt the United States, endanger Taiwan, and further embolden Xi Jinping.”
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, added: “President Biden’s assertion that ‘there is no need for a new Cold War’ between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party proves that this administration dangerously misunderstands the CCP, which openly pushes for conflict with the Chinese Communist Party. United States and its allies.
Mr. Biden and his top aides, including Mr. Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, said after earlier meetings with the Chinese that the United States would not seek to overthrow the Chinese communist system. .
Mr Biden criticized Chinese military coercion against Taiwan, according to the US reading of the meeting.
The president “raised American objections to [China’s] coercive and increasingly aggressive actions towards Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the wider region, and undermine global prosperity,” the statement said.
Mr Biden also referred to China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.
The State Department said China was engaged in genocide against the Uyghur minority and others in Xinjiang, where more than a million people were held in concentration camps.
China has denied the claims, recently backed by the United Nations, and said the camps were meant to re-educate Uyghurs.
At times, the Chinese leader’s comments at the meeting sounded like North Korean propaganda.
The Chinese reading said Xi presented the results of the recent Chinese Communist Party Congress, which “will fully promote the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation with modernization with Chinese characteristics, continue to take the realization of the people’s aspiration to a better life as the starting point, relentlessly carry out reform and opening up, and promote the construction of an open world economy.
Xi said China’s foreign policy is peaceful and advocates the peaceful settlement of disputes.
“China will adhere to peaceful development, open development and win-win development, be a participant in and promoter of global development, and work with other countries to achieve common development,” the statement said.
David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Trump administration, said Mr Biden’s emphasis on meeting Mr Xi personally was a key misunderstanding. .
“The dialogue will not change the behavior of the PRC. They said the same thing to each other,” Mr. Stilwell said.
“Their goal is to defeat liberal democracy. It is a direct threat to their authoritarian ideology,” he said. “There is no room for cooperation with the PRC. The constant begging for climate change and military-to-military dialogue sends a message of fear and weakness.