Biden and Xi Discuss Taiwan, AI, and Fentanyl in Effort to Resume Regular Leader Talks

President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping engaged in a conversation on Tuesday covering topics such as Taiwan, artificial intelligence, and security matters. The call aimed to signify a return to routine dialogue between the leaders of the two influential nations.

This discussion marked their first exchange since their summit in California last November, which saw a rekindling of ties between their militaries and a commitment to cooperate more closely in combating the trafficking of lethal fentanyl and its precursors from China.

The call initiates a series of high-level engagements between the two countries over the next few weeks. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is scheduled to visit China on Thursday, followed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the ensuing weeks.

Biden advocates for sustained interactions across all governmental levels, believing it to be crucial in preventing escalating competition between the two economic giants and nuclear powers from evolving into direct conflict. While in-person summits occur perhaps once a year, both Washington and Beijing acknowledge the importance of more frequent engagements between their leaders.

Ahead of the inauguration of Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s president-elect next month, the two leaders discussed Taiwan. Lai has pledged to uphold the island’s de facto independence from China and strengthen its alignment with other democratic nations. Biden reaffirmed the United States’ longstanding “One China” policy and reiterated opposition to any coercive measures by Beijing to assert control over Taiwan. China regards Taiwan as a domestic issue and strongly opposes U.S. support for the island.

Biden also expressed concerns about China’s activities in the South China Sea, including attempts last month to obstruct the Philippines, a nation the U.S. is treaty-bound to defend, from resupplying its forces at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.

Next week, Joe Biden will host President of Philippine, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida at White House for a joint summit where addressing China’s influence in the region is expected to be a top priority.

During the call with Xi, Biden urged China to fulfill its commitments to curtail the flow of illegal narcotics and to regulate the export of precursor chemicals. This pledge was made at their summit in Woodside, California, last year on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

At the November summit, Biden and Xi also agreed to hold formal discussions on the promises and risks associated with advanced artificial intelligence, which are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks. Just two weeks ago, China and the U.S., along with over 120 other nations, endorsed a resolution at the United Nations advocating for global safeguards concerning this emerging technology.

In the call, Biden reiterated warnings to Xi against meddling in the 2024 U.S. elections and continuing malicious cyberattacks on critical American infrastructure. Add on, he also raised concerns about human rights issues in the China, including Hong Kong’s restrictive national security law and the treatment of minority groups, as well as the situation of Americans detained in or restricted from leaving China.

Biden also addressed China’s defense ties with Russia, which is seeking to revamp its industrial base amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. He called on Beijing to leverage its influence over North Korea to restrain the isolated nuclear power.

As leaders of the world’s two largest economies, Biden also expressed concerns to Xi regarding China’s “unfair economic practices” and reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to safeguard its security and economic interests, including by restricting the transfer of certain advanced technologies to China.

The call preceded Yellen’s visit to Guangzhou and Beijing for a week of bilateral meetings with finance leaders from China, including Vice Premier He Lifeng, Chinese Central Bank Gov. Pan Gongsheng, former Vice Premier Liu He, American businesses, and local officials.

Yellen aims to advocate for fair treatment of American workers and businesses, pressing Chinese counterparts on unfair trade practices.

Before her trip, Yellen criticized Beijing for flooding the market with green energy, warning that increased production of solar energy, electric vehicles, and lithium-ion batteries poses risks to global productivity and growth.

Concerns over Chinese ownership of the social media app TikTok have prompted U.S. lawmakers to propose legislation that would ban TikTok if its China-based owner, ByteDance, fails to divest its stakes within six months of the bill’s enactment. As chair of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., Yellen holds significant authority in determining how the company can continue operating in the U.S.

Meanwhile, China aims for 5% economic growth this year despite challenges in the property sector and lingering effects of COVID-19-related measures. China dominates the market for electric vehicle batteries and has a rapidly expanding auto industry that could challenge established global carmakers as it expands internationally.

Last year, the U.S. outlined plans to restrict electric vehicle buyers from claiming tax credits if they purchase cars containing battery materials from China and also from other countries considered hostile to the U.S. Additionally, the Department of Commerce initiated an investigation into potential national security risks posed by Chinese car exports to the U.S.

Shruti Suman

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