According to a press release from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Joe Biden’s July 28 call with China’s Xi Jinping resulted in Beijing threats regarding the island nation of Taiwan. The phone call lasted more than two hours, and the White House hoped the two world leaders could work through many of the issues confronting Washington and Beijing. Among the topics the Biden administration had wanted to raise in the conversation were rolling back the former Trump administration tariffs and, of course, climate change. But unfortunately, those topics were lost in the acrimonious heated exchange over Taiwan and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit to the island.
Beijing Threats on The Airwaves
As in the past, the CCP foreign ministry jumped on the airwaves first with its interpretation of the conversation. Whatever Biden’s aspirations for the call were, Beijing’s focus was on the US relationship with, and support for, Taiwan. “Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this,” the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of Foreign Affairs said following the discussion. For China, “clear-eyed” means the US should agree with Beijing. “As usual, China left no doubt it blames the US for the deteriorating relationship between the two countries,” was the Associated Press take on China’s response to the call.
Additionally, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “President Xi underscored that to approach and define China-US relations in terms of strategic competition and view China as the primary rival and the most serious long-term challenge would be misperceiving China-US relations.” The truth is the United States, as recently as March 2022 in the National Defense Strategy, identified China as a “growing multi-domain threat” and a “challenge in the Indo-Pacific.” The narrative Beijing would like the global audience to swallow is demonstrably not accurate.
White House Statement Doesn’t Mention Threats
The initial administration release on the Biden-Xi phone call did not mention the Beijing threats and was a standard vanilla perspective on the conversation. “The two presidents discussed a range of issues important to the bilateral relationship and other regional and global issues,” the White House statement read. Regarding Taiwan, the administration’s announcement just talked about how the US “policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine the stability across the Taiwan Strait.” The bland, almost ho-hum tone belies the rancor implicit in Beijing’s assessment of the US position.
As a backdrop to the call, the PRC was already in a fit of pique over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan. In its warlike rhetoric, the Beijing government is on the edge of threatening hostile military action to persuade Biden to nix the Pelosi trip. “We have repeatedly made clear our firm opposition to Speaker Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan,” Zhao Lijian, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, threatened on July 27. “If the US side insists on making the visit and challenges China’s red line, it will be met with resolute countermeasures. The US must bear all consequences arising thereof.”
Whether the Biden-Xi conversation accomplished anything other than providing the CCP a platform to rail against the US is unclear. What does remain clear is that the White House foreign policy team has an opportunity to establish its own “red line” and explain that China does not have a veto over where and when US government officials travel. The president told reporters last week his military leadership didn’t think Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan was a good idea. Yet, when is it a good idea to exert US national policy strategy and strength? The jury is out on whether Biden will stand his ground.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.