US President Biden, Xi Jinping Speak by Phone, With Beijing Saying US ‘Needs Cooperation’

U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping spoke in a phone conversation Thursday described by the White House as part of an effort to manage competition between the two powers, while Beijing on Friday called the outreach driven by American “anxiety” and need for Chinese cooperation on a range of global issues.

The conversation on Thursday night U.S. time, the two leaders’ second since Biden took office in January, covered “areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge,” the White House said in a Sept. 9 statement.

“This discussion, as President Biden made clear, was part of the United States’ ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the [People’s Republic of China],” the White House said.

“President Biden underscored the United States’ enduring interest in peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world, and the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”

China’s state-controlled media asserted on Friday that China had gained the upper hand in the exchange, however, noting that the conversation had been initiated at the request of the United States.

The phone call “highlighted Washington’s growing anxiety and need for China’s cooperation on key global issues,” including the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, climate change, and efforts to contain the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, China’s Global Times said in a Sept. 10 report.

“While the discussions sent positive signals that both sides are aiming to maintain communication, the U.S. should take more action in correcting previous wrong deeds and respecting China’s interests, and not expecting China to cooperate while keeping it as an adversary,” the nationalistic, Chinese Communist Party-backed tabloid said.

Growing tensions

The phone call came amid growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over Chinese actions in Tibet, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.

The U.S. has also spoken out against military threats by China against the democratic, self-governing island of Taiwan, which China claims as a renegade province but which has never been ruled by Beijing nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China.

At the same time, tensions have grown amid encroachments by China on the territorial waters and maritime resources of neighboring states in the South China Sea, which China claims almost in its entirety.

In a meeting in Anchorage, Alaska in March, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confronted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Councilor Yang Jiechi with U.S. criticisms of Chinese policies, prompting an angry rebuttal from the Chinese side.

And in September, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry was denied a meeting in China’s port city Tianjin with high-ranking officials, a move widely reported as a diplomatic snub.

Turning the page

Speaking to RFA, Alexander Huang—an associate professor at the Tamkang School of Strategic Studies at Taiwan’s Tamkang University—said that Biden in Thursday’s phone call had raised general points of principle, while China focused on stating China’s stance on the issue of Taiwan.

“It is very obvious that the United States took the initiative [in the discussion] and that China was passive,” Huang said, adding that top-level talks of this kind seldom lead to substantive changes in strategic direction.

“After talks between the two sides in Alaska and Tianjin, it was definitely necessary to turn the page,” he said.

The two leaders’ tone in Thursday’s call may now “calm tensions, hawkish voices, and harsh words, and bickering may temporarily slow down,” leading toward more high-level dialogue between the two sides in the future, he said.

Yi-feng Tao, an associate professor of political science at National Taiwan University, said that after the Alaska and Tianjin meetings “all broke up unhappily … the two sides seemed to be getting more and more rigid, so both hope to control risks and not to make mistakes.”

“The United States also needs to make sure that Beijing understands that despite the fall of the Afghan government, the United States’ stance on the Indo-Pacific region and the international order has not changed.”

Reported by RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Paul Eckert. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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