China’s president has warned Joe Biden against “playing with fire” over Taiwan as tensions grow over a rumoured US visit to the disputed island.
Xi Jinping and his American counterpart spoke for more than two hours on Thursday as Beijing voiced its concerns over a possible trip to the Chinese-claimed island by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
According to Chinese state media, Mr Xi said the United States should abide by the “one-China principle” and stressed it firmly opposed Taiwanese independence and interference of external forces.
Beijing has issued escalating warnings about repercussions should Ms Pelosi – a leading Democrat like Mr Biden – visit Taiwan, which says it is facing increasing Chinese military and economic threats.
Badly timed Taiwan visit may have the US and China quietly walking into a crisis
“Those who play with fire will only get burned,” Chinese state media quote Mr Xi as telling Mr Biden.
“(We) hope the US side can see this clearly.”
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- United States
The White House released its own description of the conversation about Taiwan, saying Mr Biden “underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.
According to US officials, the call had a broad agenda which included Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which China has yet to condemn.
When the pair spoke in March, Mr Biden warned of “consequences” if Beijing gave material support for Russia’s war – and the US government believes that red line has not been crossed in the months since.
However, the exchange was another chance to manage competition between the world’s two largest economies, whose ties have been increasingly clouded by tensions over democratically-governed Taiwan, which Mr Xi has vowed to reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Washington does not have official relations with Taiwan and follows a “one-China policy” that recognises Beijing, not Taipei, diplomatically.
But it is obliged by US law to provide the island with the means to defend itself, and pressure has been mounting in Congress for more explicit support.
“This is about keeping the lines of communication open with the president of China, one of the most consequential bilateral relationships that we have, not just in that region, but around the world, because it touches so much,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters ahead of the call.
This was a view mirrored by former UK national security adviser Lord Darroch, who welcomed the talks.
He told Sky News: “China is both the world’s second greatest economic power, big trading partner for the West and in effect the world’s workshop for an awful lot of industrial products and goods.
“But it’s also a strategic challenge. It bullies its neighbours, and it has sided with Putin over Ukraine.
“I still think there’s a chance of getting China in a position over the next few years where it’s a constructive member of the international community but I’m afraid there’s lots of scope to be worried about.”