Previously undisclosed details behind the July 28 phone call between President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping have been revealed Thursday, wherein the Chinese leader urged "Now isn't the time for a bull-blown crisis."
A fresh Wall Street Journal report relates that while Xi warned Biden of unspecified consequences should House Speaker Nancy Pelosi follow through with her visit to Taiwan, making her the highest US official to do so in 25 years, he stressed he had no intention of entering a war with the United States. Citing people briefed on the call, Xi emphasized that both sides must "maintain peace and security" while reiterating Beijing's longstanding position on the Taiwan question.
Of course, the call failed to prevent Pelosi's visit to Taipei, which in turn sparked over a week of unprecedented People's Liberation Army (PLA) drills encircling the island, effectively erasing the median line which separates the Taiwan Strait.
The WSJ details that "Mr. Xi decided to talk to Mr. Biden to minimize the risks of a conflict with the U.S., according to the people familiar with the decision-making process." The main public messaging from Xi and his foreign policy officials was to warn the US that it is "playing with fire" in stoking pro-independence feelings.
Beijing in the lead-up to the crisis thought a last-ditch personal appeal by Xi was worth it, even though "China’s foreign-policy establishment has historically been careful about scheduling leader-to-leader engagements, concerned about a loss of face should the other side do something contrary to Beijing’s interests soon after the bilateral exchange."
The WSJ report notes further that the ultra-provocative ballistic missile launch wherein 11 projectiles were fired into waters off Taiwan, some having even flown directly over the island, was just as much Xi showing strength to the domestic populace as it was a threatening message to Taiwan pro-independence forces.
It remains according to the Journal, that Xi in ordering such large-scale military exercises sought to warn of the high cost associated with any future trips to the self-ruled island by US officials, or even other world leaders:
Beijing worries that Mrs. Pelosi’s visit could trigger a "domino effect" of other world politicians traveling to Taipei, boosting its international standing and potentially encouraging a declaration of independence, according to the people with knowledge of Chinese thinking.
#GTVoice: China can calmly decide how to punish Pelosi based on the investigation results, striking precise blows step by step and making Pelosi fully feel the lasting pain and loss of Chinese sanctions. https://t.co/yqjOGVuLuw— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 11, 2022
The report also concludes that "Even though Beijing’s long-stated goal is to bring Taiwan under its rule, the people said, its focus for now remains preventing the self- governed island from moving toward formal independence."
This week, Taiwan's main opposition party Kuomintang began a controversial "fact-finding" trip to the mainland. KMT vice-chairman Andrew Hsia has described it as aiming to boost cross-strait communication; however, it has limited influence in Taipei and the trip has been met with angry condemnation from rival Taiwan politicians.
As "punishment", so far the Chinese government has issued personal sanctions on Pelosi, and more importantly has canceled a series of bilateral talks ranging from energy to climate to military. The heretofore military-to-military dialogue was widely seen as of prime importance, with the risk now having grown of the potential for unintentional conflict or miscalculation as US warships continue patrolling waters near China.
Meanwhile, this about summarizes where things now stand...
The US “is vowing to continue sailing warships through the Taiwan Strait and to conduct air operations in the region in response to Chinese military drills” around Taiwan.— Stephen Gowans (@GowansStephen) August 11, 2022
Translation: The US will respond to China’s response to US provocations by continuing to provoke China.