President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping spoke by phone for well over two hours on Thursday on mounting tensions over Taiwan, a festering trade dispute and their bid to keep the superpower rivalry in check.
The White House said that the call lasted two hours and 17 minutes. A statement was expected later.
Already stuck in a trade war, Beijing and Washington increasingly risk open conflict over Taiwan, with little sign of resolution on either front.
The latest flashpoint is a possible trip by Biden ally and speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to the island, which Beijing claims is part of China but has its own distinct, democratic government.
Washington will “bear the consequences” if the trip, which Pelosi has yet to confirm, goes ahead, China warned Wednesday.
And the dispute around Pelosi is the tip of an iceberg, with US officials fearing that Xi is mulling use of force to impose control over democratic Taiwan.
Biden’s contradictory comments on whether the United States would defend Taiwan — he said in May that it would, before the White House insisted there was no change in the hands-off “strategic ambiguity” policy — have not helped the tension.
Biden prides himself on a close relationship with Xi going back years but — in large part due to Covid travel restrictions — the two have yet to meet face-to-face since he took office.
This is meant to ensure that while they sharply disagree on democracy, and are increasingly rivals on the geopolitical stage, they can avoid open conflict.
Where to place the guardrails, however, is challenging amid so many unresolved disputes, including a simmering trade war begun under Donald Trump’s presidency.
“We do believe… that the tariffs that were put in place by his predecessor were poorly designed. We believe that they’ve increased costs for American families and small businesses, as well as ranchers. And that’s, you know, without actually addressing some of China’s harmful trade practices,” Kirby said.