WASHINGTON (AP) — Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping are set to speak Thursday, according to a US official, their first talks in four months coming amid fresh tensions between Washington and Beijing over China’s claims on Taiwan.
Scheduled talks between the two leaders – the fifth in a series of regular check-ins – have been in the works for weeks. But the possibility of visiting Taiwan by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress and second in line to the presidency, has added new tensions to the complicated relationship.
Beijing warns it will take “forceful measures” should Pelosi visit the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.
The US official declined to be identified prior to the public announcement. The schedule was first reported by Bloomberg.
Pelosi has not confirmed his plans to visit Taiwan, but Biden told reporters last week that US military officials believed it was “not a good idea” for the speaker to visit the island at the moment. Biden’s comments came after the Financial Times reported last week that Pelosi was planning to visit Taiwan in August, a trip she originally planned for April but was postponed after she tested positive for COVID-19.
The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether she plans to visit Taiwan, citing the security protocol of her trip. But she said Biden’s comment came from military officials who were “afraid our plane would be shot down by the Chinese or something.” She would be the senior US elected official to visit Taiwan since Republican Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997 when he was serving as Speaker of the House.
“It’s important for us to show our support for Taiwan,” Pelosi said. “None of us have ever said we are pro-independence when it comes to Taiwan. Taiwan has to decide that.”
Government officials have privately stressed to Pelosi that travel to Taiwan could further complicate a delicate status quo.
Chinese officials are outspoken, sending a message that a visit by Pelosi would be seen as a change in US policy and treated as a provocation.
“If the US insists on going its own way, China will take vigorous measures to resolutely respond and counteract it, and we will do as we say,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
The US has long been committed to the “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows for informal and defensive ties with Taipei. China has stepped up its military provocations against Taiwan in recent years, and there are fears it is trying to intimidate the island into accepting Beijing’s demands for unification with the communist mainland.
The Biden-Xi talks could also include discussions over North Korea’s nuclear program, differences between Beijing and Washington over Russia’s war in Ukraine, efforts by the Biden administration to revive the Iran nuclear deal and the status of the US review of imposed tough tariffs -Government embrace on China through the Trump administration.
“There are issues of tension in this relationship,” John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said Tuesday. “But there are also issues where we consider cooperation not only possible but imperative, such as climate change, which affects us very much.”
Long-simmering differences over Taiwan have come under intense focus following the Russian invasion and ongoing efforts to annex parts of eastern Ukraine.
As the US scrambles to assemble a global coalition to hit Russia’s economy with severe sanctions in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s ordered invasion of Ukraine, Biden warned his allies – particularly those in the Indo-Pacific – that Beijing would be watching closely how democracies react how, in his opinion, is next steps on Taiwan.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Friday he feared Beijing could glean some “worrying” lessons from the five-month-old war in Eastern Europe. But he pointed out that the moment has also prompted careful reflection in Taipei.
“Not that many people ask, ‘Is Taiwan learning lessons from Ukraine?’ and you can bet they are,” Sullivan said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum. “They learn lessons about citizen mobilization and territorial defense. You will learn lessons about information warfare and how to set up the information space. And they’re learning lessons about how to prepare for a possible contingency with China, and they’re working on it quickly.”
Taiwan was a key topic during Biden and Xi’s last call in March, some three weeks after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
China has repeatedly threatened to use force to assert its claim on Taiwan, and has dispatched hundreds of sorties into Taiwanese airspace since Biden took office 18 months ago. The US has a legal obligation to ensure that the island’s self-governing democracy can defend itself and treats threats with great concern.
The call also comes as Biden’s national security and economic advisers near the conclusion of a review of U.S. tariffs policy and prepare to make recommendations to the president.
The tariffs imposed under President Donald Trump hit billions of dollars in Chinese products with a 25% tariff. The penalties were intended to reduce the US trade deficit and force China to adopt fairer practices.