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Biden and China's Xi discuss tensions over Taiwan

Taiwanese honor guards stand by under a national flag during a military ceremony in front of the presidential office in Taipei on March 9.
AFP via Getty Images
Taiwanese honor guards stand by under a national flag during a military ceremony in front of the presidential office in Taipei on March 9.

President Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had a "direct and honest" conversation about tensions over Taiwan, according to the White House, as part of a call on a number of issues that lasted for over two hours on Thursday.

The White House says the leaders also discussed making plans for a future face to face meeting, which would be their first since Biden took office.

Biden appeared to try easing Chinese concerns about reports of a possible trip by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, an island China claims as its territory but which governs itself with a separate political system.

The White House says Biden assured Xi on Thursday that U.S. policy on Taiwan hasn't changed. For decades, the U.S. has officially maintained "strategic ambiguity" about Taiwan's independence, keeping up a friendly relationship with the island, without formal diplomatic relations.

"On Taiwan, President Biden underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," the official U.S. readout of Thursday's call said.

The readout from Beijing stated that "the one-China principle is the political foundation for China-US relations," referring to Beijing's position that Taiwan as a part of a single Chinese nation.

The two leaders also discussed differences over U.S. tariffs and global implications of the conflict in Ukraine.

Tensions over Taiwan have been increasing for months

This spring, Biden angered Beijingwhen he said his administration was willing to use military force to defend the island, which was walked back later.

White House officials said the call that had been in the works for weeks, as part of ongoing efforts by the administration to manage the relationship.

"This is the kind of relationship-tending that President Biden believes strongly in doing even with nations with which you might have significant differences," John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters on Wednesday.

After the call, a senior administration official told reporters that Biden and Xi "discussed the fact that the United States and China have differences when it comes to Taiwan," adding that those differences have But the they have managed those for over 40 years And keeping an open line of communication on this issue is essential

But focus on the call increased when news leaked that Pelosi was considering traveling to the self-governing island. It would be the highest-level delegation from the United States in 25 years.

China has warned it would take "resolute and forceful measures" if Pelosi follows through with the visit.

The divisions over Taiwan come at a time of several challenges between the two superpowers: the Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. tariffs and Chinese aggression in the Pacific.

The White House has been pressed about the possible Pelosi trip for weeks. Last week, Biden told reporters that the U.S. military was against the idea of the House speaker traveling to Taiwan.

But Biden must be careful not to look like he's caving to the Chinese, as politicians on both sides of the aisle publicly argue that Pelosi should not back down to the Chinese government's warnings.

On Thursday, the Chinese readout warned against external interference that encourages independence for Taiwan. "Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this," the readout said.

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Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.