Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Biden held a two-hour call on Thursday that came amid simmering tensions over Taiwan as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning to visit the island next month.
According to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Xi told Biden that China was committed to resisting “interference by external forces” on Taiwan. “Those who play with fire will perish by it,” he said. “It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this.”
According to a White House readout of the call, Biden told Xi that US policy “has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Despite the warnings over Taiwan, the two leaders agreed to hold a face-to-face meeting. “They also discussed the value of meeting face-to-face and agreed to have their teams follow up to find a mutually agreeable time to do so,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters after the call.
China has made clear that it will respond to Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, and Biden administration officials have said they fear the visit could spark a major crisis across the Taiwan Strait. But the administration insists that it can’t stop Pelosi from going, which Beijing finds hard to believe.
The US military is preparing to deploy more forces to the region if Pelosi goes through with her trip, which is expected to happen sometime in August. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group are currently transiting the South China Sea after leaving Singapore.
The simmering tensions over Taiwan demonstrate the state of US-China relations, which are at their lowest point since Washington and Beijing formally established relations in 1979. Biden has made clear that he views China as a rival, and previously said the US and China are in a competition to “win the 21st century.”
In Thursday’s call, Xi told Biden that he didn’t agree with this characterization of the US-China relationship. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Xi “underscored that to approach and define China-US relations in terms of strategic competition and view China as the primary rival and the most serious long-term challenge would be misperceiving China-US relations.”