BEIJING – President Xi Jinping warned against meddling in China’s dealings with Taiwan during a phone call with his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, that gave no indication of progress on trade, technology or other irritants, including Beijing’s opposition to a top American lawmaker’s possible visit to the island that the mainland claims as its own territory.
Xi also warned against splitting the world’s two biggest economies, according to a Chinese government summary of Thursday’s unusually lengthy, three-hour call. Businesspeople and economists warn such a change, brought on by Chinese industrial policy and U.S. curbs on technology exports, might hurt the global economy by slowing innovation and increasing costs.
Meanwhile, Xi and Biden are looking at the possibility of meeting in person, according to a U.S. official who declined to be identified further. Xi has been invited to Indonesia in November for a meeting of the Group of 20 major economies, making it a potential location for a face-to-face meeting.
The Chinese government gave no indication Xi and Biden discussed possible plans by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit Taiwan, which the ruling Communist Party says has no right to conduct foreign relations. But Xi rejected “interference by external forces” that might encourage Taiwan to try to make its decades-old de facto independence permanent.
The tough language from Xi, who usually tries to appear to be above political disputes and makes blandly positive public comments, suggested Chinese leaders might believe Washington didn’t understand the seriousness of previous warnings about Taiwan.
“Resolutely safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity is the firm will of the more than 1.4 billion Chinese people,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Friday. “Those who play with fire will perish by it.”
Taiwan and China split in 1949 following a civil war that ended with a communist victory on the mainland. They have no official relations but are linked by billions of dollars of trade and investment. Both sides say they are one country but disagree over which government is entitled to national leadership.
A Ministry of Defense spokesperson said ahead of Thursday’s call that Washington “must not arrange for Pelosi to visit Taiwan.” He said the ruling party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, would take “strong measures to thwart any external interference.”
Xi called on the United States to “honor the one-China principle,” according to Zhao, referring to Beijing’s position that the mainland and Taiwan are one country. The United States, by contrast, has a “one-China policy” that says Washington takes no position on the question but wants to see it resolved peacefully.
“China's opposition to to interactions between the United States and Taiwan is clear and consistent,” Zhao said.
A foreign ministry summary of the conversation cited Biden as saying the United States doesn’t support independence for Taiwan.
Coverage of the conversation in China’s entirely state-controlled media on Friday was limited to repeating government statements.
Pelosi has yet to confirm whether she will go to Taiwan, but if she does, the Democrat from California would be the highest-ranking elected American official to visit since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Beijing criticized Gingrich for saying the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack but did little else in response to his three-hour visit to the island.
Since then, China’s position on Taiwan has hardened as the mainland economy grew to become second-largest after the United States. The ruling party poured hundreds of billions of dollars into developing fighter jets and other high-tech weapons including “carrier killer” missiles that are thought to be intended to block the U.S. Navy from helping to defend the island.
The conflict over a possible Pelosi visit is more sensitive to Beijing in a year when Xi, who took power in 2012, is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as party leader.
Xi, who wants to be seen as restoring China's rightful historic role as a global leader, has promoted a more assertive policy abroad. The People’s Liberation Army has sent growing numbers of fighter planes and bombers to fly near Taiwan in an attempt to intimidate its democratically elected government.
The United States has no official relations with Taiwan but has extensive commercial ties and informal political connections. Washington is obliged by federal law to see that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.
Xi called for cooperation on reducing the risk of economic recession, coordinating macroeconomic policies, fighting COVID-19 and “de-escalation of regional hot spots," according to the government statement.
He also warned against decoupling, or separating, the U.S. and Chinese economies for strategic reasons.
Businesspeople and industry analysts have warned global industries might be split into separate markets with incompatible products due to China’s pressure on its companies to develop their own technology standards and U.S. restrictions on Chinese access to technology that Washington see as a security risk. That might slow innovation and increase costs.
“Attempts at decoupling or severing supply chains in defiance of underlying laws would not help boost the U.S. economy,” the statement said. “They would only make the world economy more vulnerable.”