A congressional trip to Taiwan, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), became the focus of President Biden’s talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday, further underscoring the recent rift between the US and China, which has brought relations to their lowest point in decades.
President Biden used his fifth phone call with Xi since taking office to try to manage resentment over Pelosi’s planned visit along with a list of points of tension that have strained US-China relations, including Beijing’s refusal to end Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine to condemn economic competition, security and human rights.
The nearly two-and-a-half-hour call included a “direct and candid discussion” about Taiwan, in which Biden stressed that the two countries have worked out differences over the democratically self-governing island for the past 40 years and vowed that the US would continue to uphold the status quo under Washington’s “one China” policy, according to a White House official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
China had tougher words on Taiwan, reiterating Beijing’s opposition to the island’s independence and repeating Biden’s pledge to maintain an open line of communication on the issue.
“Those who play with fire will perish,” says a Chinese reading of the appeal. “It is to be hoped that the US will have clear eyes on this.”
The prospect of a visit, which Pelosi has yet to publicly confirm, is fueling already simmering tensions over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory and threatens to use violence. Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region and a series of comments from Biden vowing to militarily defend Taiwan have further fueled ties over the past year.
Discussion of Pelosi’s trip, which burst into the open last week after Biden hinted at military concerns over the timing, marks the latest test of the president’s strategy to contain China’s growing power as Biden and Xi seek to stave off a political miscalculation that could lead to a conflict.
It has also led to escalating threats of retaliation from Chinese officials, who warned that such a trip would constitute a “red line” for Beijing and would be met with strong countermeasures, causing unease within the Biden administration.
If Pelosi cancels the trip, it could create the impression that the US is collapsing in the face of Chinese pressure, a politically dangerous outcome for Biden pre-emptively drawn to Republican criticism. If it proceeds, the US risks a possible confrontation in the Taiwan Strait over what China may see as a change in Washington’s long-standing policy of supporting Taiwan without recognizing its sovereignty.
“There is so much momentum building for this trip to happen that it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that it won’t go,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund, a non-partisan public policy think tank. “I think there are other steps the United States could take to signal support for Taiwan … and to manage our differences with China so that we don’t go to war.”
Congress could move towards passing some elements of the Taiwan Policy Act, which would boost funding for the island’s security assistance and make it a “key non-NATO ally,” she said.
Pelosi could also postpone the trip, as she did in April after testing positive for COVID-19, Glaser added, noting the timing of her visit ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s major political meeting in the fall could cause a reaction. Xi, who is expected to defy precedent by seeking a third term as president, may feel pressured to show strength ahead of the meeting.
A longtime critic of the Chinese government, Pelosi wouldn’t be the first lawmaker to pay a congressional visit since China stepped up its military provocations toward Taiwan in recent months: Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) paid a visit this month to Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) traveled there at the end of May. But the last Speaker of the House to make the trip was Republican Newt Gingrich in 1997.
A growing choir of lawmakers, including some of Pelosi’s enemies in the GOP, have rallied around the planned visit, arguing cancellation would amount to allowing Beijing to dictate US policy.
“If she doesn’t go now, she gave China … some kind of victory,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) echoed that view, saying he will lead a congressional delegation when he becomes speaker next year.
The White House has reiterated that the President has little or no power over the actions of a Speaker of the House. But Beijing could misinterpret the visit of the U.S. government’s third-highest figure as an official government visit that Biden has the right to block, according to M. Taylor Fravel, a scholar who leads the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Xi may now conclude that 1) the United States continues to ‘undermine’ its One China policy, perhaps to a point of no return, and 2) that he is snubbed/despised by Biden /was insulted,” Fravel tweeted before the call.
“Therefore, the stakes for Xi in responding will be even higher, creating even greater incentives for a forceful response than if no call had been made.” Politics, reputation and credibility will be at stake.”
In Biden’s last phone call with Xi in March, the president warned of the consequences if Beijing sends military aid to support the Russian war in Ukraine. US officials have been closely watching China’s response to Moscow’s invasion for clues as to how Beijing might advance its long-held goal of “reuniting” Taiwan with China.
Chinese academics have reportedly been tasked by the ruling Communist Party with finding ways to violently take over the self-governing island of 24 million people, according to Bonny Lin, who directs the China Power Project at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
“Beijing is concerned that increasing U.S. and allied support for Taiwan and other regional partners increases the risk of a U.S.-China military confrontation and that China may find itself in the same situation as Russia,” Lin said in a recent Testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
“Some [Chinese officials] believe that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and the West were originally intended for China should China invade Taiwan,” she added.
China has refused to condemn the Russian invasion or join sanctions to punish Moscow. But it has subtly shifted to opposing war and pushing for diplomacy. But many in Beijing believe they haven’t received recognition for this, Lin said.
Ukraine was among the complex agenda items Biden had to navigate in his latest meeting with Xi, along with a pending decision on whether to lift Trump administration-era tariffs on China to curb inflation.
A sweeping $280 billion package to boost the domestic semiconductor industry and reduce US reliance on Chinese manufacturing, approved by Congress on Thursday, also appeared to be causing friction, according to a Chinese advert during the call.
Biden and Xi also discussed areas on which they could work together, including climate change and health security. Biden also raised human rights issues, including genocide and forced labor practices by the People’s Republic of China, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
The call also provided an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a face-to-face meeting between the two on the sidelines of the upcoming Group-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, or the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Bangkok in November, which would allow Biden to meet his to demonstrate personal diplomacy and the couple’s relationship dating back to when the two were vice presidents.
“Both have to go through a political season beforehand, but they have to prepare for it,” said Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council. “It’s important that they’ll probably have to sit across from each other and coordinate the future relationship… They both know that.”
A White House official declined to say whether either of the November summits would serve as the backdrop for their meeting, but said it was an “essential part of the conversation” and that both leaders agreed their teams “united.” find a time that is acceptable to both parties”. .”
But before diplomatic reunions in the fall, Biden and Xi will have to navigate what Glaser and other experts describe as a “continuous downward spiral and deterioration in the relationship” over the coming months, beginning with the possible fallout from Pelosi’s trip.
Glaser said that although both leaders have discussed risk mitigation measures, the fractured relationship remains unchanged.
“Nothing will be resolved at this meeting, but maybe we can put an end to the deterioration in the relationship,” she said.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-07-28/pelosis-taiwan-visit-tests-u-s-china-relations-as-biden-looks-to-ease-tensions-with-xi Pelosi’s Taiwan visit a focus of Biden call with China’s Xi