Biden has a phone call with Xi

Foreign Affairs

It seems that Biden wanted to call Xi directly because none of the meetings between lower level officials from the two sides had any productive results at all.

xi jinping at his desk
Which phone rang? Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 at his desk in 2017.

In a phone call initiated by the U.S., Joe Biden spoke with Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 last night for about 90 minutes. It seems that Biden wanted the call because none of the meetings between lower level officials from the two sides had any productive results at all.

The White House readout of the call said the two leaders “had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge,” and “discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”

The official Chinese readout (in English, and in a slightly different version in Chinese) says Xi emphasized that “On the basis of respecting each other’s core concerns and properly managing differences, the relevant departments of the two countries may continue their engagement and dialogue to advance coordination and cooperation on climate change, COVID-19 response and economic recovery as well as on major international and regional issues.”

Xi also spoke to Angela Merkel today. He said (in English, Chinese) that he and the German chancellor “have maintained highly frequent and efficient exchanges since last year, which has…demonstrated the high-level mutual trust between the two countries.”

  • Xinhua News Agency pointedly placed stories about the two phone calls right next to each other on their home page.
  • The German government did not announce the call and has not yet provided a readout.

Interpretations

  • The New York Times says that the “call between the two leaders — their first substantive conversation since February — showed the sense of urgency in the White House to compete with Beijing and establish policymaking expectations.”
  • Bill Bishop of the Sinocism newsletter commented:

I am open to the idea that it is a smart strategy of the PRC side to just stonewall and blame the U.S. for everything, betting the U.S. will likely keep trying, lobbyists and political pressure groups will do their things here in the U.S., but not in China, and that eventually the Biden administration will start making concessions

Or is this a smart political move by Team Biden, as now they can say they have tried but Beijing just won’t play ball?

  • The Wall Street Journal noted that “the Biden team also has yet to resolve disagreements among officials over key facets of China policy.”