Biden, in call with China's Xi Jinping, sets 'guardrails' to ensure 'competition does not veer into conflict'
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President Biden spoke with China’s President Xi Jinping by phone Thursday night, aiming to set “guardrails and parameters” in the U.S.-China relationship to ensure that while the two nations are in “stiff competition,” they do not “veer into conflict,” senior Biden administration officials said.
The White House late Thursday said Biden and Xi had a “broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge.”
“They agreed to engage on both sets of issues openly and straightforwardly,” the White House said.
Biden “made clear” that the discussion was “part of the United States’ ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC,” the statement said, using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.
“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,” the White House said.
A senior administration official said the tone of the call, which lasted approximately 90 minutes and which the president took from his residence inside the White House, was familiar and candid as conversations have been in the past between the two leaders. The official added that the conversation was “wide-ranging,” touching on a number of global issues.
The official said Biden and Xi discussed the importance of the two leaders to be able to have private conversations.
The official, breaking down the “guardrails and parameters” Biden laid out, explained the importance of open lines of communications, the ability to discuss where interests converge and where values diverge, and the ability to engage on both sets of those issues “openly and straightforwardly.”
Then-Vice President Joe Biden meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Dec. 4, 2013. (Reuters)
“That is what we think is important in terms of managing the competition,” the official said, maintaining the importance of “being clear about priorities and intentions so that they are not misinterpreted.”
“These are the kind of principles we think guardrails should be build on — those are the things on the president’s mind,” the official said.
‘We have not been satisfied’
When asked whether Biden raised the issue of coronavirus and the origins of the pandemic with Xi, the official would not provide specifics, but noted the two discussed a “range of transnational issues where we both have interests and the global pandemic is one of those.”
Another senior administration official told Fox News that the Biden administration has engaged with officials from China in “several settings” since Biden’s first conversation as president with Xi in February, but claimed those Chinese officials have “not been serious about diplomatic engagement,” but rather “propaganda.”
“We don’t believe that is how responsible nations act, given the global importance of U.S.-China competition,” the official said, adding that the administration continues to believe in the importance of maintaining “open lines of communication.”
“The lower lines of engagement had not been fruitful,” the official explained. “We have not been satisfied thus far.”
“Their hardline rhetoric isn’t working,” the official added. “The hardline approach Xi’s administration is taking will not work for us or our allies.”
“Their hardline rhetoric isn’t working. The hardline approach Xi’s administration is taking will not work for us or our allies.”
China’s President Xi Jinping speaks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 26, 2019. (Getty Images)
The official went on to stress the importance of Biden’s call with Xi, saying that engagement at the “leader level” is “what is needed to move the ball forward.”
“That’s why Biden initiated the call,” the official said.
Biden administration officials have been engaging in tense bilateral talks with Beijing for months, amid years of torn ties between the U.S. and China.
Biden, on the call, was not seeking outcomes or agreements, according to officials, but rather sought to set “guardrails for healthy competition.”
“Biden knows history will judge both leaders in how they manage this competition and takes this seriously,” the official said.
“Biden knows history will judge both leaders in how they manage this competition and takes this seriously.”
“While we remain in a competitive space, we don’t want that to veer into conflict,” the official added, acknowledging that the U.S. is in a “competitive posture with China.”
“That’s the dominant framework of this relationship,” the official said.
Historically, the official explained, there has been a “binary” relationship between the United States and China.
“We’re either in a period of engagement or a period of confrontation with China,” the official said.
“That’s not where we are anymore,” the official said, adding that the Biden administration thinks the “goal” should be to “reach a steady state of affairs.”
“We should be in a stiff, competitive posture, but one in which we can do many things at once,” the official said, pointing to holding China accountable for its practices, and protecting the interests and values of the United States and U.S. allies.
As for areas where Beijing’s behavior is problematic or destabilizing, the official said the leaders would have “candid, in-depth” discussions.
“We will work with China when interests align, and we will underscore this is how we believe competition can be conducted responsibly,” the official said.
Back in Biden’s February call with Xi, the president outlined his administration’s core concerns with China’s “practices, aggressive activities and abuses.” Biden, at the time, signaled a “clear and consistent subscription to American values,” and set a number of areas he believed the U.S. and China could work together.
The Biden administration, since, has warned that China has “rapidly become more assertive,” and “is the only competitor potentially capable of combing its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”
The Biden administration, in recent months, has also focused on China’s lack of transparency with regard to the international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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