Joe Biden and Xi Jinping Plan to Hold First Phone Call Within Hours

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    (Feb. 11) President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are preparing to speak within hours for the first time since the new administration in Washington took office last month, according to two people familiar with the matter.

    The conversation between the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies will take place as tensions remain high over issues including Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, trade, technology and human rights in Xinjiang, among other issues.

    A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    The call was arranged after Biden had spoken with numerous other counterparts around the world, including European and Asian allies and even Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Xi and Biden have pledged to find common ground where they can, including on topics such as climate change. Yet Biden and his team have been clear that they intend to maintain the Trump administration’s more adversarial approach to China, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying in his confirmation hearing that China “poses the most significant challenge of any nation state to the United States.”

    In a visit to the Pentagon on Wednesday, Biden said he had directed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to establish a task force to review national security policy with respect to China.

    U.S.-China tensions weren’t eased during a recent call between Blinken and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi, according to two people familiar with the matter. Chinese officials objected to what they said was an overly negative tone to the American summary of the call, while Blinken’s team felt China’s readout put words in the secretary of state’s mouth over the “One China” policy regarding Taiwan.

    China has generally approached the U.S. cautiously since Biden’s election and Trump’s unprecedented campaign to challenge the result. While Xi sent Biden a congratulatory message in late November, he hasn’t spoken with a sitting U.S. president since last March.

    Soon after that last call, Washington and Beijing launched into a series of disputes that saw their relationship sink to its lowest point since the height of the Cold War. In recent months, the two nations have traded sanctions, expelled journalists, closed each other’s consulates and clashed over everything from Taiwan to the origins of the coronavirus.

    Biden has met Xi repeatedly over the years, including as vice president, and until recently touted what he said was his friendship with the Chinese leader. He gave a harsher assessment on the campaign trail last year, calling Xi a “thug” who “doesn’t have a democratic — with-a-small-‘d’ — bone in his body.”

    Trade with China will be a top economic priority for Biden. China failed to meet its 2020 trade targets under the Trump administration’s “phase one” agreement, buying just under 60% of the $172 billion worth of goods it said it would purchase. That could lead to calls for Biden to re-negotiate the deal, which is to expire within a year.

    The two countries have also clashed over technology, with the U.S. seeking to curb the growth of Chinese tech champions. The Trump administration used export controls, entity lists and executive orders to block companies including Huawei Technologies Co., chip maker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., ByteDance Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. from American goods and consumers.

    The status of the democratically run island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory, has also re-emerged as one of the biggest flash points between the two sides. Trump oversaw a dramatic expansion of ties with Taipei, including a visit by then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar last August.

    Chinese leaders usually seek to get their American counterparts to reaffirm the country’s commitment to the One China policy. Trump recommitted to upholding the policy, which recognizes the People’s Republic as the sole legal government of China, during his first call with Xi in 2017, and State Department spokesman Ned Price said at another briefing that the Biden administration won’t change that position.

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