President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met virtually Monday evening amid increased Chinese military aggression and renewed tensions over Taiwan. It was the first time the two leaders had met formally during Biden’s presidency; previously, they had only shared two phone calls.
Biden made his appearance from the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Placed in front of him was a desk podium holding up two black binders, which contained hole-punched pages with typed, bold print. In a 10-minute video clip released from the three-and-a-half-hour-long discussion, the president appeared to be reading from the binder, speaking entire sentences with only a single look up.
“And it seems to me we need to establish some common sense guard rails to be clear and honest where we disagree and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change,” Biden read, glancing up twice.
While a translator repeated his words in Mandarin, Biden looked back down at the binder and appeared to be studying the prepared remarks.
In contrast, Xi looked into the camera while addressing Biden. If he was reading prepared remarks, he had a teleprompter. The Chinese president began by calling Biden “my old friend,” as the two had spent time together when Biden was vice president. Biden once claimed that he has spent more time with Xi than any other world leader.
China’s state-run Global Times reported that Xi issued a stark warning to Biden, saying that the intention of Americans to use Taiwan to contain China is “just like playing with fire” and that “whoever plays with fire will get burnt.” He added that his nation was prepared to take “resolute measures” against Taiwan’s independence.
According to the Global Times, Xi said the increased tensions between the two nations were due to “repeated attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for U.S. support for their independence agenda as well as the intention of some Americans to use Taiwan to contain China.”
Last month, China flew a record number of military jets into Taiwan’s air defense zone, prompting Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen to write an essay in Foreign Affairs warning of “catastrophic” consequences for peace if her nation fell to China.
The Biden administration has been working to build closer ties to Taiwan. A small contingent of U.S. troops is stationed in Taiwan, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was present at the virtual meeting with Xi, called last month for Taiwan to participate in UN agencies like the World Health Organization.
The White House said that Biden expressed concern about China’s crackdown on Hong Kong and its abuse of Uyghurs, but it did not mention any discussion over the origins of COVID-19. Biden refused to answer a question at a press conference last week on whether or not he would bring up the virus’ origins with Xi.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the White House will announce a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which will not affect American athletes’ participation in the games.