Biden and Xi to Talk Taiwan
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping today (Friday) for the fifth time since taking office at a time when tensions have ratcheted up once again over Taiwan.
On the other hand, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plans to visit the island—which China claims as its own territory—has been met with both public and private admonitions from Chinese officials. So great is the potential for missteps, the U.S. military is reportedly preparing multiple scenarios to cover potential security risks that go with the trip.
Pelosi has shown no signs of scrapping the trip (which, considering the precarious position of the Democratic Party ahead of the November midterm elections, could be her last as Speaker).
On the contrary, she’s begun extending invitations to other lawmakers to join her. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has been asked to come, as has Rep. Michael McCaul the most senior Republican on the committee (McCaul has already declined, citing prior engagements).
Although Biden has not publicly remarked on whether Pelosi should travel, he has hardly been circumspect on the issue of Taiwan. In May, he said the United States would defend the island if it came under attack from the Chinese military in remarks that received the now customary walking back from U.S. national security officials.
Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund, said that the timing of Pelosi’s Taiwan trip particularly risks a Chinese response: Nationalistic sentiment will be higher in August, when China celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, as will party politics, as senior Chinese officials make their annual pilgrimage to the resort town of Beidaihe. It’s all part of a lead-up to the 20th Party Congress in October, where Xi is expected to be named to a third term.
“There’s still jockeying for various personnel selections and Xi Jinping cannot be seen as weak on an issue like Taiwan,” Glaser said.
Writing in Foreign Policy Journal on Tuesday, Mike Chinoy questioned the merits of a trip that seems “very much symbolism over substance.”
And in Wednesday’s China Brief, FP’s James Palmer highlighted Pelosi’s trip from the perspective of Beijing, where officials and media nurse a strong dislike for the House speaker.
As well as geopolitics, Biden and Xi are likely to discuss economic competition, including whether to end some Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods. On Tuesday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby described the 2020 U.S.-China agreement as “a shoddy deal,” but Biden is still undecided on what to do instead. The U.S. president is in the process of “working this out with his team,” Kirby said.
It also comes as U.S. lawmakers are trying to take a leaf out of China’s book and roll out state support for key industries. The CHIPS act, which was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, plans to invest $54 billion in U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and research. Its supporters say it will help reduce U.S. reliance on China, as well as boost U.S. competitiveness in a strategically important area of the global economy.
Meanwhile, climate change policy, one of the bright spots of cooperation between the countries, is also on the agenda, but how much Biden can bring to the table is questionable considering his signature climate bills have so far failed in Congress.
That may be about to change, however, as late last night, Sen. Joe Manchin seemed set to reverse his opposition to climate spending and said he would back $369 billion of climate and energy funding as part of the freshly-minted Inflation Reduction Act.
The two sides have maintained a high-level engagement on the subject. Environment Minister Huang Runqiu visited Washington earlier this month for talks with the U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, EPA chief Janet McCabe, and California governor Gavin Newsom. Huang’s visit made him the most senior Chinese official to visit the U.S. capital since Biden became president.
Expert Glaser listed some positive developments to look out for once both sides publish their readouts, including progress on risk reduction efforts between the two countries, statements from both sides about wishing to avoid a military crisis, as well as any movement on strategic stability talks—which have so far remained stagnant.
Although Glaser doesn’t expect today’s call to solve Taiwan’s anxieties in one go, it might reignite efforts to calm tensions and reduce the chances of U.S.-China military conflict. “There seems to be a lack of appreciation for how potentially dangerous this is,” Glaser said. “I hope this is a real wake up call.”