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Biden And Xi To Hold Call Tomorrow Amid Increasing Taiwan Tensions


A fifth call between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping is expected to take place tomorrow as tensions over Taiwan continue to increase.

  • White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters yesterday that Trump-era tariffs, Russia, and safely managing economic competition will be the focus of the call.
  • Kirby also said, “that kind of rhetoric coming out of the Chinese side is clearly unhelpful and not necessary,” in regard to a proposed trip to Taiwan from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
  • As speculation mounts that the White House is concerned that the trip will escalate tensions, Kirby clarified that the role of the WH National Security team is to provide context to facilitate decision making, not to advise members of Congress on political matters. He also cautioned that, “there’s been no trip announced.”
  • There are several dynamics at play which are increasing the risk associated with the Pelosi’s trip. The first is that President Xi is seeking approval for an unprecedented third presidential term at 20th Communist Party Congress later this year, most likely November.
  • Bonnie Glaser at the German Marshall Fund notes that, “it’s a sensitive time for Xi,” the Chinese leader will be keen to demonstrate strength on emotive domestic issues. Perceived weakness towards the US or Taiwan could affect his chances of expanding his influence. There has been speculation the Congress could see Xi elected Chairman of the CCP, a title associated with Mao Zedong.
  • The second dynamic is that confidence in the US One China policy and strategic ambiguity has eroded during Biden’s time in the Oval Office.
  • In May, the US State Department appeared to change wording on its Taiwan fact sheet, removing lines acknowledging that Taiwan is part of China, and on opposing Taiwan independence. This wording was reinserted after protestations from Beijing and now reads "we do not support Taiwan independence," in accordance with the One China policy.
  • In May this year, Biden told reporters that the US would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. This conflicts with official US policy: The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 which obliges the US to help equip Taiwan to defend itself, not provide for defence of the island. The White House has hastily clarified the Biden 'gaffes' to affirm that US policy towards Taiwan has not changed, but it is likely that Beijing senses that the Biden administration is keen to abandon the policy of strategic ambiguity.
  • These dynamics are interacting to make the timing of Pelosi’s trip particularly dangerous. Add to that, the increasingly hawkish calls from US lawmakers to pursue her trip as a matter of principle, all the ingredients are in place for a significant crisis.
  • Chinese Ministry of Defence Spokesperson Tan Kefei said yesterday, “if the US insists on taking its own course, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and it will definitely take strong actions to thwart any external force's interference."
  • For the White House, the desirable course of action is likely a postponement of the trip until after the Communist Party Conference, allowing Xi more space to act in a conciliatory manner, but such a climbdown will result in accusations of appeasement from China hawks in Congress.

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