Biden and Xi Jinping discuss Russia-Ukraine war, Taiwan, election security and counternarcotics

President Joe Biden held a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday morning to address U.S. concerns over China’s trade with Russia amid its war with Ukraine, the issues of cyberattacks and election interference, and efforts to counter illicit narcotics traffic, among other regional and global matters, the White House said.

The “check-in” call between Biden and Xi — their first discussion since November — was an opportunity for them to talk about some tough issues and try to ensure that the two countries are responsibly managing their competition with each other, a senior administration official said in a background call with reporters on Monday evening.

“Intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage tensions, address misperceptions and prevent unintended conflict, and this call is one way to do that,” the official said.

Xi Jinping and Joe Biden at the G20 Summit in Bali (Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images file )Xi Jinping and Joe Biden at the G20 Summit in Bali (Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images file )

Xi Jinping and Joe Biden at the G20 Summit in Bali (Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images file )

China’s trade with Russia as that nation wages war against Ukraine came up, the White House said in a readout of the call — a topic that has been part of the diplomatic conversations between the U.S. and China since the start of the war, the senior administration official said. The U.S. has grown more concerned over China helping to rebuild Russia’s defense industrial base, the official said.

During a White House press briefing Tuesday, national security communications adviser John Kirby said the two leaders spoke for about an hour and 45 minutes in the call, which was meant to build on their meeting in Woodside, California, in November of last year.

Asked what Biden’s message to Xi was on misinformation campaigns or election interference efforts by the Chinese government or people associated with it, Kirby said the administration has been clear about its concerns over election security in the U.S. and efforts by certain foreign actors, including some from China, to influence the 2024 election.

The Biden administration has undertaken a whole-of-government effort to protect elections against foreign adversaries and continues to underscore its concerns with China and other countries, the senior official said in the preview of the call, adding that it’s not enough to take the Chinese at their word when they say whether they will take action on that and other matters, but requires verification of Beijing’s efforts. The administration is also committed to conveying to the Chinese government the U.S. concerns about cyberattacks that compromise critical infrastructure, the official said.

The call was an opportunity for Biden to reaffirm the longtime “One China” policy that recognizes Beijing as China’s only legal government amid Xi’s efforts to reunify Taiwan with mainland China, and to reiterate the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, especially with regard to the May presidential inauguration in Taiwan, the senior administration official said. Another area for potential discussion included U.S. concerns over China’s destabilizing actions in the South China Sea, including recent actions by Chinese coast guard ships that posed dangers to routine Philippine maritime operations, the official said.

China’s state news agency Xinhua reported that during their “candid and in-depth exchange” of views, Xi stressed that the issue of Taiwan is “the first insurmountable red line” in China-U.S. relations.

“We will not let the separatist activities and external connivance and support of the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces go unchecked,” the news agency reported Xi said. “We hope that the U.S. will implement Mr. President’s positive statement of not supporting ‘Taiwan independence’ into action.”

While Biden and Xi last spoke over the phone in July 2022, the two leaders met in Bali in November 2022 and held a summit meeting in California in November of last year, the senior administration official noted.

In a readout of the call, the White House said Biden and Xi held a “candid and constructive discussion on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including areas of cooperation and areas of difference.”

The leaders reviewed and encouraged progress on key issues, such as counternarcotics cooperation, military-to-military communication, artificial intelligence-related risks, and climate issues, the White House said.

Biden also emphasized the U.S. commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the White House said.

Kirby added during the briefing that Biden pressed the U.S. interest in Chinese company ByteDance divesting its ownership of the popular video-sharing app TikTok, an idea U.S. lawmakers have advanced as a way to protect national security and the data security of U.S. citizens.

Kirby also said Biden was “very clear” with Xi about his “significant differences of opinion and concerns over some unfair market practices” China uses that put U.S. workers at a disadvantage.

According to Xinhua, Xi accused the U.S. of having “launched an endless stream of measures to suppress” China’s economy, trade and technology, and noted the U.S. has a growing list of sanctions against Chinese companies.

“This is not ‘risk removal’ but creation of risk,” Xi reportedly said. “If the United States is willing to carry out mutually beneficial cooperation and share the dividends of China’s development, China’s door will always be open; if the United States insists on suppressing China’s high-tech development and depriving China of its legitimate right to development, we will not sit idly by.”

The White House said Biden and Xi expressed support for keeping communication channels open through high-level diplomacy and working-level consultations in the coming weeks and months, including future visits by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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