- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2022

President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping sought to thaw tensions between their nations during a nearly three-hour meeting Monday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

The talks underscored several points of contention, including policies on Taiwan and North Korea, that could plunge relations between Beijing and Washington into a full-blown crisis.

The highly anticipated meeting began with low expectations of easing tensions in a competition between the U.S. and China for military and economic influence.

It was the first in-person meeting of the two leaders since Mr. Biden took office and his most consequential move during a seven-day overseas trip that included a summit of Southeast Asian countries and the COP27 climate summit. 

Mr. Biden left the meeting downplaying any notion of conflict. He said he thinks the two nations can work together on global issues.

“I absolutely believe there need not be a new cold war,” he said. “We’re going to compete vigorously, but I’m not looking for conflict. I’m looking to manage competition responsibly.”

SEE ALSO: Taiwan tensions and push to prevent war shroud Biden’s meeting with China’s Xi

Beijing issued a summary that described the meeting as “thoroughgoing, frank and constructive.” It emphasized Beijing’s position on Taiwan as a “red line that cannot be crossed in the China-U.S. relationship.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said Mr. Biden must do more to address China’s “cold war” against the U.S.

“His naive return to a policy of appeasement will hurt the United States, endanger Taiwan, and further embolden Xi Jinping,” Mr. Cotton said in a statement.

Tensions between the U.S. and China are at their highest level in decades, complicated by issues such as Taiwan, Beijing’s human rights record, the war in Ukraine and Chinese pilfering of U.S. technology.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi made it clear that Taiwan was the top priority for the meeting. China claims the self-governing island as its territory and says actions supporting Taiwan could be viewed as provocative.

“Anyone who tries to split Taiwan from China would be defying the virtuous cause of the Chinese nation,” Mr. Xi said after the meeting, according to Chinese state media.

SEE ALSO: Congress moving forward on military aid package for Taiwan as Biden aims to cool tensions with China

Mr. Biden reassured the world that he does not think an attack on Taiwan is imminent. He also reiterated his support for Washington’s long-standing “One China” policy.

Under that policy, the U.S. acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is a part of China, even though the U.S. maintains informal diplomatic relations and substantial defense ties with the island democracy and does not technically recognize Chinese sovereignty over it.

Chinese officials have complained that U.S. arms shipments and high-profile contacts, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in August, have upset long-standing diplomatic understandings of U.S. relations with Taiwan.

Mr. Biden said he made clear to Mr. Xi that the U.S. policy toward Taiwan has not changed. On four occasions before the talks, he said the U.S. would defend the island if Beijing attacks it.

“I made it clear that we want to see cross-strait issues peacefully resolved so it never has to come to that,” Mr. Biden said about the risk of a conflict over Taiwan. “I’m convinced that he understood exactly what I was saying.”

While Mr. Biden was meeting with Mr. Xi, a group of bipartisan lawmakers was finalizing a package that would allow the U.S. to send up to $1 billion worth of stockpiled munitions and up to $2 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan. The package could include anti-ship and anti-air-defense missiles.

Congressional leaders said the shipment is necessary to avoid a crisis like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that arming Taiwan could prevent shots from being fired.

Weeks ahead of Mrs. Pelosi’s trip, Chinese officials warned that the U.S. was “playing with fire.” In retaliation for Mrs. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China halted its relations with the U.S. on several issues, including climate change and military ties.

China viewed the California Democrat’s trip, the first by a House speaker in 25 years, as support for Taiwan’s independence.

Mr. Biden’s repeated public statements that U.S. troops would defend the island if China invades have further increased tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Although the White House has walked back Mr. Biden’s remarks, Beijing vowed that any attempt to interfere in Taiwan would be “crushed by the wheels of history.”

Taiwan wasn’t the only flashpoint.

Mr. Biden said he told Mr. Xi that China has an obligation to dissuade North Korea from testing nuclear missiles and that the U.S. would take defensive actions if the saber-rattling continues. He did not specify how the U.S. would respond to additional nuclear tests.

“It would not be directed against China, but it would be to send a clear message to North Korea,” Mr. Biden said. “We are going to defend our allies as well as American soil and American capacity.”

The U.S. has a large military presence in South Korea and conducts joint drills with allies in the region, to the chagrin of Pyongyang and dictator Kim Jong-un.

North Korea has been conducting missile tests at a rapid clip, prompting worries that it might resume nuclear testing. The government in Pyongyang is notoriously reclusive, and Beijing is the closest thing it has to a global ally.

Mr. Biden said there might be little China can do to rein in Pyongyang.

“I’m confident China is not looking for North Korea to engage in further escalatory means,” Mr. Biden said. “We would be more up in the face of China, but it wouldn’t be because of China; it would be because of what was going on in North Korea.”

Mr. Xi last month won an unprecedented third term, cementing his status as China’s most powerful figure in decades. Mr. Biden hailed the Democratic Party’s victories in the midterm elections last week as vindication of his policies. Although Democrats exceeded expectations, Republicans are likely to take control of the House and have promised numerous investigations of the administration.

Mr. Biden said his party’s political success did not make Mr. Xi combative or less likely to cooperate with the U.S.

“I didn’t find him more confrontational or more conciliatory,” Mr. Biden said. “I found him the way he’s always been: direct and straightforward.”

• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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