Biden, Xi trade warnings on Ukraine, Taiwan

Both leaders in video call agree for more engagement to “manage” U.S.-China competition

March 19, 2022 08:15 pm | Updated March 20, 2022 07:53 am IST - Hong Kong

U.S. President Joe Biden speaking with Chinese President Xi Jinping (on screen) from the White House in Washington  on Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaking with Chinese President Xi Jinping (on screen) from the White House in Washington on Friday. | Photo Credit: AFP

U.S. President Joe Biden warned China’s President Xi Jinping of “consequences” if Beijing decided to provide material support to Russia, as the two leaders spoke in a video call on Friday.

The Chinese leader, for his part, delivered a warning on U.S. support to Taiwan, a point emphasised by the readout of the call released by Beijing late on Friday.

A readout from the White House focused more on the Ukraine issue, underlining the contrasting priorities of the two leaders as well as the differences between the two sides as they grapple with continuing tensions in relations.

Both leaders did however come to an agreement to have closer and more frequent engagement between their officials to “manage” U.S.-China competition.

The White House said “the conversation focused on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” and Mr. Biden “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians.”

What those consequences may be was not specified. In the wake of the sweeping sanctions targeting Russia, Chinese analysts have expressed concerns that Chinese institutions could be penalised for their links to Russia, prompting some state-run financial institutions in China to already curtail financing for Russian commodities.

Mr. Xi told Mr. Biden that “sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions would only make the people suffer” and “if further escalated, they could trigger serious crises in global economy and trade, finance,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

On Ukraine, the Chinese President broadly reaffirmed China’s position calling for diplomacy and respecting territorial sovereignty, but at the same time highlighting Russia’s broader security concerns. He called on the U.S. and NATO to “also have dialogue with Russia to address the crux of the Ukraine crisis and ease the security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine”.

“He who tied the bell to the tiger must take it off,” Mr. Xi said, quoting a Chinese proverb.

Beijing suggested in its readout that the focus was not only on Ukraine, but as much on bilateral relations and how to bring ties back on track. Mr. Xi made it clear that the onus was on the U.S. side to fix relations, and said the previous administration, under Donald Trump, had brought relations to the current state. Chinese officials have recently told Washington that they could not seek China’s support on some issues without addressing its concerns on others.

Mr. Xi “pointed out that the China-US relationship, instead of getting out of the predicament created by the previous US administration, has encountered a growing number of challenges,” the Foreign Ministry said.

On Taiwan, he noted that Mr. Biden had “reiterated that the US does not seek to have a new Cold War with China, to change China’s system, or to revitalize alliances against China, and that the US does not support ‘Taiwan independence’ or intend to seek a conflict with China.”

 “I take these remarks very seriously,” Mr. Xi was quoted as saying.

One takeaway from the video call was the continued push from both sides to have more regular engagement. The video call followed a meeting earlier this week between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Politburo member Yang Jiechi.

During the call, both leaders “agreed on the importance of maintaining open lines of communication, to manage the competition between our two countries”, the White House said.

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