China’s Xi Tells Biden He ‘Plays With Fire’ With Taiwan Policy in Phone Call
© AP Photo / Lintao Zhang
Despite protestations by the White House, Pentagon, and Beijing alike, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the third most powerful US politician, is pushing ahead with plans to visit the island of Taiwan – a territory in rebellion against the Chinese government – next month.
In their fifth phone call as leaders of their respective nations, Chinese President Xi Jinping told US President Joe Biden that his Taiwan policy was dangerous and would ultimately backfire on Washington.
“One who plays with fire will certainly burn himself,” Xi reportedly told Biden, according to China Central Television (CCTV) on Thursday.
“We strongly oppose separatism and ‘Taiwan independence’, as well as interference from external forces,” Xi said.
CCTV added that “the two heads of state had in-depth communication and exchanges on China-US relations and issues of mutual concern.” The call reportedly lasted 2.5 hours and spanned topics ranging from Taiwan to the ongoing trade disputes between the world’s two largest economies.
In a statement later on Thursday, the White House said Biden “underscored that the United States 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.”
The phone call, seen by observers as an attempt to cool tensions after days of burly posturing by both sides after House Speaker Pelosi revived plans to visit Taiwan next month. She would be the highest-ranking US politician to visit the island in 25 years, and the visit would come after several other high-ranking US figures made trips to the island to denounce Beijing, including former Secretary of State and former CIA director Mike Pompeo and former Pentagon chief Mark Esper.
The White House and Pentagon have both tried to dissuade Pelosi from going, warning it will drastically inflame tensions, and Beijing has warned it will take extreme measures in response to the move. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a Chinese province in rebellion, and sees US support for Taipei as interference in Chinese internal affairs – especially since Washington acknowledged Beijing’s position in 1979, when the two nations established formal relations.
Pelosi, however, has remained obdurate, and on Wednesday extended an invitation to several senior lawmakers to join her. She has cast opposition to her trip as undemocratic, and earned the unexpected support of many Republicans.
The government on Taiwan is all that remains of the republican government that ruled all of China between 1912 and 1949, when communist forces defeated them and conquered the mainland, establishing the People’s Republic of China in Beijing. Since then, all but a handful of nations have switched their recognition of the Chinese government from Taipei to Beijing, but the US has continued to funnel Taipei enough weapons to guard its autonomy from Beijing.
The island has acquired new importance in Washington’s strategic pivot toward “great power competition” with Russia and China, serving as both a friendly outpost and an ideological bludgeon against so-called Chinese “authoritarianism.” Several times since taking office, Biden’s administration has had to walk back explicit claims by the president that the US would come to Taiwan’s defense militarily in case of an attack – a violation of Washington’s longstanding “strategic ambiguity” policy of neither encouraging Taiwanese independence or its reconciliation with Beijing.