Nearly a month after his inauguration and more than three months since the presidential election, Joe Biden held his first call with Xi Jinping since entering the White House, just days after his secretary of state warned Beijing that Washington would hold China accountable for its “abuses”.
In a Wednesday night tweet, Biden said that he spoke today with President Xi "to offer good wishes to the Chinese people for Lunar New Year." He also shared concerns "about Beijing’s economic practices, human rights abuses, and coercion of Taiwan" and told him that Biden "will work with China when it benefits the American people."
I spoke today with President Xi to offer good wishes to the Chinese people for Lunar New Year. I also shared concerns about Beijing’s economic practices, human rights abuses, and coercion of Taiwan. I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people.— President Biden (@POTUS) February 11, 2021
The White house also chimed in saying that "President Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan. President Biden committed to pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements when it advances the interests of the American people and those of our allies."
"The two leaders also exchanged views on countering the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation. President Biden committed to pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements when it advances the interests of the American people and those of our allies" the White House said.
The call, however, had vastly different content when retold from China's side.
According to an account of the conversation reported by Chinese state television, Xi said that "cooperation was the only choice and that the two countries need to properly manage disputes in a constructive manner." Xi also told Biden that "confrontation between China and the United States would be a disaster and the two sides should re-establish the means to avoid misjudgments."
Xi also said Beijing and Washington should re-establish various mechanisms for dialogue in order to understand each others’ intentions and avoid misunderstandings, the report said.
Finally, and most bizarrely, Xi told Biden that he hopes the United States will cautiously handle matters related to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang that deal with matters of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Quite the opposite of what Biden reportedly told Xi...
Issues regarding Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang are China’s domestic affairs that concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The US should respect China’s core interests and deal with those issues prudently: Xi https://t.co/1FqbOst3k8— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) February 11, 2021
How is it possible that both sides came away with such profoundly different summaries of what was said: maybe the two were talking without a translator?
Ahead of the call, a senior US official said Biden had planned to raise a number of issues with Xi, including China’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and its repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang. It wasn't clear if Hunter Biden was also discussed.
“The president will raise [Hong Kong and Xinjiang] directly with Xi Jinping on the call . . . and indicate that this is not just about American values, it’s about universal values,” the official said. “It is about obligations that China itself has signed on to with respect to core international agreements.”
Biden's secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, angered the Chinese last month when speaking to his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, in the first high-level interaction between the countries since Biden became president, Blinken said the US viewed the detention of an estimated 1 million Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang as “genocide”.
China's treatment of its Muslim population has sparked calls for countries to boycott the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing. Asked if Biden would raise the games in the call, the senior US official said it would “not be on the agenda”. In fact, we doubt that any truly controversial topics were breached for the reason discussed in "Blockbuster Report Reveals How Biden Family Was Compromised By China."
Meanwhile, relations between China and the US remain at rock bottom. After years of escalating trade wars between Trump and Xi, the Financial Times reported that Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defence zone just after Biden’s inauguration and simulated missile attacks on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. Which may explain why the US has now sent a second aircraft carrier in the South China Sea where it is holding naval exercises even as Beijing blasts the "blow to peace and stability."
On Sunday, Biden told CBS News that China would face “extreme competition” from the US. While he praised his Chinese counterpart — whom he knows from his time as Barack Obama’s vice-president — as “very bright”, he said he “doesn’t have a democratic . . . bone in his body”.
Just a few days prior, Blinken told Yang the US would stand up for democracy and human rights, signalling a hawkish stance towards China. “I made clear the US will . . . hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system,” Blinken wrote on Twitter following the call. In response, Yang warned the US not to interfere in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, saying “no one can stop the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
It's unclear if that means that "10 for the big guy" will now stop.