President Joe Biden reaffirmed his respect for Taiwan’s status quo on Thursday to reassure China. At the same time, its president, Xi Jinping, took the opportunity to issue a stern warning to Washington and ask it “not to play with fire.”
Biden and Xi held a more than a two-hour phone call that the White House described as direct and honest, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry called it “frank and profound.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry was the first to report the content of the conversation, the first since March, in which Xi reiterated his claims over Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
Xi, moreover, rejected any “foreign interference” but made no mention of the possible trip to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, the first by a U.S. politician of that rank in 25 years after the 1997 visit by Republican Newt Gingrich.
Pelosi has not yet confirmed the trip, but China has warned that it will respond firmly to a visit it perceives as a threat.
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“Playing with fire will get you burned out yourself,” the Foreign Ministry warned in its statement, expressing its wish that “the United States can see this clearly.”
In the conversation, Xi also called on Biden to abide by the “one China” principle that Beijing imposes as the basis for its ties with any country and which means that the only Chinese government to be recognized by Washington is the one based in Beijing, which distances it from Taiwan’s independence aspirations.
According to a senior White House official, Biden reiterated in the call his respect for the principle that led Washington to sever diplomatic ties with Taipei almost half a century ago and establish them with Beijing.
In return, the United States signed the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which commits the country to the defense of the island, although it is unclear whether the world power would intervene in the event of a Chinese attack.
That policy of strategic ambiguity broke down in May when Biden warned of the possibility of U.S. intervention if China invaded Taiwan. However, the White House subsequently sought to make clear that there had been no change in policy toward the island.