Biden and Xi have a “constructive” chat — Editor’s Note for Friday, March 18, 2022

Foreign Affairs

A note for readers from Jeremy Goldkorn. Today: President Joe Biden and General Secretary Xi Jinping had a video meeting, and Ukraine was at the top of the agenda.

Weekly Editors Note Jeremy Goldkorn illustration red background

Dear reader,

Presidents Joe Biden and Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 had a video call today, at the request of the U.S. leader. The war in Ukraine was the main topic.

The White House has not yet released a readout of the call, but Xinhua News Agency summarized it in English with a report titled “Xi stresses joint China-U.S. efforts for world peace, tranquility,” with the main point being “The Ukraine crisis is not something we want to see.”

The lengthier Chinese readout (or see English translation, somewhat hidden on the Foreign Ministry’s website) ended on a positive note:

The two presidents agreed that the video call is constructive. They directed their teams to promptly follow up and take concrete actions to put China-U.S. relations back on the track of steady development, and make respective efforts for the proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis.

But as my colleague Kaiser Kuo remarked to me after he saw the readouts: “I think it’s quite clear that China has picked a side: China.”

Much of the Chinese language readout was veiled criticism of the U.S. and NATO. Xi used two Chinese sayings to emphasize that the Russian invasion was not really Russia’s fault, and certainly not China’s fault at all: Let he who tied the bell on the tiger take it off (which was our phrase of the week last week!) and It takes two to tango, or literally, It takes two hands to clap (一个巴掌拍不响 yígè bāzhǎng pāi bù xiǎng).

BREAKING: As we were about to send this email, the White House released its readout of the call. It says that Biden “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians,” but that the “two leaders also agreed on the importance of maintaining open lines of communication.” Biden also “reiterated that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed.”

This week, our phrase is Too much to eat and not enough to do (吃饱了撑的 chī bǎo le chēng de), another Xi Jinping favorite.

Job opportunity: The Schwarzman Scholars program seeks an Academic Coordinator based in New York.