Biden Wanted to Talk 'Red Lines' with China, Xi Gives His 'First'—Taiwan

Before meeting his Chinese counterpart for the first time since entering the White House last year, President Joe Biden said he wanted to discuss "red lines" in the strained relationship between Washington and Beijing.

Following their talks Monday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia, a Chinese Foreign Ministry readout of the conversation said the U.S. leader got his answer as part of "a full account of the origin of the Taiwan question and China's principled position" explained by President Xi Jinping.

The lengthy account outlined how Xi "stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China's core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations."

"Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese and China's internal affair," Xi was cited as saying. "It is the common aspiration of the Chinese people and nation to realize national reunification and safeguard territorial integrity. Anyone that seeks to split Taiwan from China will be violating the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation; the Chinese people will absolutely not let that happen!"

China has claimed Taiwan as its own since the Communists expelled the Nationalists to the disputed island in 1949. Three decades later, Washington cut official ties with Taipei in order to establish relations with Beijing. But Chinese officials have increasingly accused the U.S. of drifting away from the arrangements that served as the cornerstone of their bilateral relations by increasing political contact and military aid to Taiwan, especially in recent years.

"We hope to see, and are all along committed to, peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, but cross-Strait peace and stability and 'Taiwan independence' are as irreconcilable as water and fire," Xi asserted. "We hope that the U.S. side will match its words with action and abide by the one-China policy and the three joint communiqués."

He recalled Biden's previous commitments that the U.S. did not support "Taiwan independence," and that Washington "has no intention to use Taiwan as a tool to seek advantages in competition with China or to contain China," and said that "we hope that the U.S. side will act on this assurance to real effect."

Presidents, Xi, Jinping, China, Joe, Biden, US
U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, on November 14, 2022. In their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in early 2021, the two leaders discussed a range of issues, from bilateral relations and Taiwan to trade disputes and the ongoing war in Ukraine. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Biden, for his part, has repeatedly vowed to come to Taiwan's aid with military action in the event of a Chinese attempt to reunify by force. That position breaks with decades of strategic ambiguity surrounding whether or not the U.S. would commit to defending the contested island, and it stirred already simmering tensions with the People's Republic.

These tensions nearly came to a boiling point in August when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid an unannounced yet highly anticipated visit to Taiwan amid a regional tour. China responded by conducted massive People's Liberation Army exercises surrounding the island and by suspending bilateral cooperation with the U.S. in a number of key areas.

Xi signaled hope for an improvement in ties, saying "the current state of China-U.S. relations is not in the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples, and is not what the international community expects."

"China and the United States need to have a sense of responsibility for history, for the world and for the people, explore the right way to get along with each other in the new era, put the relationship on the right course," Xi said, "and bring it back to the track of healthy and stable growth to the benefit of the two countries and the world as a whole."

The Chinese readout also referenced Biden's remarks, noting that "the U.S. side is committed to keeping the channels of communication open between the two presidents and at all levels of government, so as to allow candid conversations on issues where the two sides disagree, and to strengthen necessary cooperation and play a key role in addressing climate change, food security and other important global challenges."

"This is vitally important to the two countries and peoples, and also very important to the whole world," the report cited the U.S. leader as saying. "President Biden reaffirmed that a stable and prosperous China is good for the United States and the world."

Biden was also said to have reiterated the commitments that have long served as guard rails to the relationship between the world's top two powers.

"The United States respects China's system, and does not seek to change it," the statement cited Biden as saying. "The United States does not seek a new Cold War, does not seek to revitalize alliances against China, does not support "Taiwan independence', does not support 'two Chinas' or 'one China, one Taiwan', and has no intention to have a conflict with China. The U.S. side has no intention to seek 'de-coupling' from China, to halt China's economic development, or to contain China."

Together, these commitments constitute the so-called "five no's" that Xi told Biden "he takes very seriously" on Monday, according to the Chinese readout.

As for the White House's account, the White House readout was far shorter, but includes many of the same core issues referenced in the Chinese report, including trade ties, their differing political systems, North Korea, Ukraine, as well as Taiwan, on which the U.S. leader appeared to press his Chinese counterpart.

"On Taiwan, he laid out in detail that our one China policy has not changed, the United States opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and the world has an interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," according to the U.S. readout. "He raised U.S. objections to the PRC's coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region, and jeopardize global prosperity."

But Biden too sought to emphasize the need for cooperation, saying that "the United States will continue to compete vigorously with the PRC," but that "this competition should not veer into conflict, and underscored that the United States and China must manage the competition responsibly and maintain open lines of communication."

"President Biden underscored that the United States and China must work together to address transnational challenges — such as climate change, global macroeconomic stability including debt relief, health security, and global food security — because that is what the international community expects," according to the White House. "The two leaders agreed to empower key senior officials to maintain communication and deepen constructive efforts on these and other issues."

In line with the effort to move forward with their bilateral talks, the White House said that national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit China "to follow up on their discussions."

Biden provided some more detail of his talk with Xi during a press conference later that same day, describing the Chinese leader as neither "more confrontational" nor "more conciliatory" than in previous talks, but rather "the way he's always been: direct and straightforward."

"We were very blunt with one another about places where we disagreed or where we were uncertain of each other's position," Biden said. "And we agreed we'd set up—and we did— mechanisms whereby we would meet in detail with the key people in each of our administrations to discuss how we could resolve them, or how, if they weren't resolved, on what basis were they not resolved."

Based on his conversations with Xi, the U.S. leader said he did "not think there's any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan" and that, in general, he "absolutely" believed that "there's not to be a new Cold War" between Washington and Beijing.

As recently as last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Naval Operations Chief Admiral Michael Gilday suggested Beijing was expediting the timeline to take control of Taiwan in comments criticized by Chinese officials. U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl suggested last week such an operation was not likely in the next couple of years in an apparent effort to assuage concerns.

"I want to be clear, and be clear with all leaders, but particularly with Xi Jinping, that I mean what I say, and I say what I mean, so there's no misunderstanding," Biden said Monday. "That's the biggest concern I have, is a misunderstanding about intentions or actions on each of our parts."