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Presidents Biden and Xi hold first phone call amid tense U.S.-China relations

WorldFeb 11, 2021 02:36AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. U.S. President Biden visits the Pentagon 2/2

By David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and Yew Lun Tian

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held their first telephone call as leaders, with Biden saying a free and open Indo-Pacific was a priority and Xi warning confrontation would be a 'disaster' for both nations.

Biden also underscored his "fundamental concerns about Beijing's coercive and unfair practices, its crackdown in Hong Kong, reported human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan", the White House said in a statement.

Xi told Biden that confrontation would be a "disaster" and the two sides should re-establish the means to avoid misjudgments, according to the Chinese foreign ministry's account of the call, which took place on Thursday morning in Beijing time but Wednesday evening in the United States.

The Chinese leader maintained a hardline tone regarding Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, which Xi told Biden were matters of "sovereignty and territorial integrity" that he hopes the United States will approach cautiously.

Taiwan's government, which has complained of China's repeated military drills near the Chinese-claimed and democratic island, thanked Biden for expressing his concern.

The telephone call was the first call between Xi and a U.S. president since the Chinese leader spoke with former President Donald Trump in March last year. Since then, relations between the two countries have plunged to their worst level in decades, with Trump blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Trump administration, the United States launched a series of actions against China, including a trade war, sanctions against Chinese officials and firms perceived to be security threats and challenging Beijing's South China Sea territorial claims.

Xi congratulated Biden on his election in a message in November, even though Biden had called him a "thug" during the campaign and vowed to lead an international effort to "pressure, isolate and punish China."

Chinese officials have expressed cautious optimism that bilateral relations will improve under Biden and urged Washington to meet Beijing halfway.

The U.S. and Chinese read outs of the call mentioned areas for potential cooperation, with both honing in on climate change and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

"You have said that America can be defined in one word: Possibilities. We hope the possibilities will now point toward an improvement of China-U.S. relations," Xi told Biden, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

NO CHANGE IN U.S.-CHINA POLICY

The Biden administration has made it clear that it will continue to maintain pressure on China, however, although it has also pledged to take a more multilateral approach.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters ahead of the telephone call that Biden would be "practical, hard-headed, clear-eyed" in dealings with Xi, but wanted to ensure they had the opportunity to have an open line of communication, despite U.S. concerns about Chinese behavior.

The official said the call came at a time when the United States believed it was in a position of strength, after consultations with allies and partners, to lay out core concerns about China's "aggressive activities and abuses".

The Biden administration will look in coming months at adding "new targeted restrictions" on certain sensitive technology exports to China in cooperation with allies and partners, the official said. He also said there would be no quick moves to lift the tariffs the former Trump administration left in place against Chinese imports.

The call came after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone to top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Friday. That was the first announced high-level exchange between top diplomats from the two countries since former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Yang in Hawaii last June.

In his call, Blinken said Washington would stand up for human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong - all issues Yang had days earlier said the United States should stay out of.

Biden has said Beijing is Washington's "most serious competitor", and his administration has indicated it will broadly continue the tough approach taken by Trump.

Presidents Biden and Xi hold first phone call amid tense U.S.-China relations
 

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Comments (11)
Stephen Fa
Stephen Fa Feb 11, 2021 5:39PM ET
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What kind of infrastructure investment in the US is going to make a difference in the economic war with China?
Evgeny Syrtsov
Evgeny Syrtsov Feb 11, 2021 7:48AM ET
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10% for the Big guy.
Simon Liu
Simon Liu Feb 11, 2021 5:50AM ET
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It seems that both of the two Presidents are working for China, and caring about the happiness of Chinese people only. Thanks! Let's make China great again!Warmly welcome Trump to China!
Evgeny Syrtsov
Evgeny Syrtsov Feb 11, 2021 4:29AM ET
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biden is a Chinese puppet.
Hunt Richardson
Hunt Richardson Feb 11, 2021 3:06AM ET
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Biden should make Trump the US ambassador to China. his hard stance toward the country was one of the best things he did
David David
David9 Feb 11, 2021 3:06AM ET
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Actually China loves Trump for his stoooopidity...
David David
David9 Feb 11, 2021 3:06AM ET
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Actually China love his stupidity, cause it all back fired at him.... China believes in yin and yang and the balances of the forces... when Trump goes hard as yin, it just give China yang energy that is good...
Chris Fran
Chris Fran Feb 11, 2021 3:06AM ET
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lol.. Trump can't even speak English coherently. and you want him to do it in mandarin? lol
Krasimir Balakov
Krasimir Balakov Feb 11, 2021 3:00AM ET
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Come man
Art Fire
Art Fire Feb 11, 2021 1:27AM ET
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The major issue that needs to be addressed are the deadlier diseases that originate from China every 5 to 10 years.  Their lack of health standards cause more and more damage every time. This time it cost trillions in damage to the entire world (their own factories included) while *****millions. The next one likely to be worse. It's time to stop eating diseased ill-prepared exotic animals.
David David
David9 Feb 11, 2021 1:27AM ET
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The WHO scientists have spoken... there is a possibility the virus came to China. So now it is time the WHO travel to US to check out the labs...
John Tee John Tee
John Tee John Tee Feb 11, 2021 1:27AM ET
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David David Nice one 五毛 50cents for a comment good enough for you
Stephen Fa
Stephen Fa Feb 11, 2021 1:27AM ET
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The WHO is joke
TheGamingFoxy FoxyGamer
TheGamingFoxy FoxyGamer Feb 11, 2021 1:08AM ET
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biden asking ji for a job for his son Hunter?
Ad Cline
Ad Cline Feb 11, 2021 1:08AM ET
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I do doubt it. China already. bribed ivanka trump with $34 million worth of copywrites in 2017. and you can see what China got for that bribe.....a trade war.
Joe Moore
Joe Moore Feb 11, 2021 12:47AM ET
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Biden was recieving his orders
Whaling Trawler
Whaling Trawler Feb 11, 2021 12:43AM ET
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put your mask on biden😷
Stoxer One
Stoxer One Feb 11, 2021 12:36AM ET
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Trump "blaming" China for covid? That's where it started and their obfuscation made the things a lot worse.
Jason Zou
Jason Zou Feb 11, 2021 12:36AM ET
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I think you really meant US obfuscation in facing and dealing with the pandemic, since China’s definititve and open actions have got it under well controlled. By the way, do you have the most recent death toll of it in the US? Thank you in advance.
John Tee John Tee
John Tee John Tee Feb 11, 2021 12:36AM ET
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Jason Zou Yes America did a bad job but China concealed it for weeks before admitting that the virus is transmissible from human to human and lied to the international stage
Stephen Fa
Stephen Fa Feb 11, 2021 12:36AM ET
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China's CCP uses totalitarian controls for pandemics.  Here in USA, we have human rights and actual liberty to consider.   It's apples and oranges to compare pandemic responses between the two systems.
 
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