A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden via video link, at a restaurant in Beijing, China November 16, 2021.
Tingshu Wang | Reuters
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s upcoming call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping will focus on areas of potential cooperation between the U.S. and China, the White House said Wednesday, even as diplomatic relations between the two nations are fraught with tension over Russia, intellectual property disputes and, even, espionage.
“There is an awful lot in the bilateral relationship between the United States and China for these two leaders to talk about,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, noting that the call would take place “in the coming days” and would be Biden and Xi’s 5th leader-to-leader conversation.
As rising tensions between Washington and Beijing dominated news headlines, Kirby insisted that there was an inherent value in holding a call, even if Biden and Xi did not resolve any of their myriad issues of disagreement.
“That’s the key thing: The president wants to make sure the lines of communication with President Xi remain open, because they need to,” said Kirby.
“There’s issues where we can cooperate with China on, and then obviously there are issues where there’s friction and tension,” he told reporters at the White House daily press briefing.
He noted tension over China’s treatment of Taiwan, China’s “aggressive and coercive behavior in the Indo-Pacific outside of Taiwan,” economic issues and China’s unwillingness to condemn Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine as potential sticking points.
‘I would expect all of these things to be part and parcel of this conversation,” Kirby said.
The former Defense Department spokesman also sought to downplay a fresh source of bilateral tension: A possible U.S. congressional trip to Taiwan, which reportedly could be led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Pelosi has neither confirmed nor denied the widely rumored trip, and it is not on the official itinerary of her trip to Asia in early August — so far only Japan, Singapore and Indonesia are on the list.
Pressed by reporters about a potential stop in Taiwan, Pelosi said Wednesday that she does not discuss her travel plans because doing so poses a security risk.
Nonetheless, Beijing has been fiercely critical of even the prospect of a Pelosi visit to Taiwan, arguing that it would signal tacit U.S. support for the independence movement inside Taiwan, which Beijing considers an existential threat to Chinese sovereignty.
“Should the U.S. side insist on making the visit, China will act strongly to resolutely respond to it and take countermeasures,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said recently.
Kirby dismissed Beijing’s vague threats, saying they were much ado about a trip that isn’t even official yet.
“The rhetoric coming out of the Chinese side here on a trip that hasn’t been decided or announced is unhelpful and unnecessary,” he said.