U.S. President Joe Biden warned President Xi Jinping on Monday that the United States would enhance its security position in Asia if Beijing cannot rein in North Korea’s weapons programmes, and during a three-hour meeting the two leaders also had strong words about Taiwan.
Biden told a news conference after his first in-person talks with Xi since becoming president in early 2021 that they had blunt talks over a wide array of issues that are contributing to the worst U.S.-Chinese ties in decades.
But he said there was no need for a new Cold War, and added he did not think China was planning a hot one.
In a statement after their meeting, Xi called Taiwan the “first red line” that must not be crossed in U.S.-China relations, Chinese state media said.
Biden said he sought to assure Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed, seeking to lower tensions over the self-ruled island. “I do not think there’s any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan,” he told reporters.
On North Korea, Biden said if China is unable to rein in Pyongyang’s weapons programmes, the United States would do more to further protect U.S. allies in the region.
Beijing had halted a series of formal dialogue channels with Washington, including on climate change and military-to-military talks, after U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August.
“The Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations,” Xi was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.
Beijing views Taiwan as an inalienable part of China. The island’s democratically-elected government rejects Beijing’s claims of sovereignty over it. Beijing has frequently accused the United States in recent years of encouraging Taiwan independence.
The two sides had set up a mechanism for more frequent communications and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China to follow-up on discussions, Biden said. “I think we understand each other,” he said.
Before their talks, the two leaders smiled and shook hands warmly in front of their national flags at a hotel on Indonesia’s Bali island, a day before a Group of 20 (G20) summit set to be fraught with tension over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s just great to see you,” Biden told Xi, as he put an arm around him before their meeting.
Biden brought up a number of difficult topics with Xi, according to the White House, including raising U.S. objections to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan”, Beijing’s “non-market economic practices”, and practices in “Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and human rights more broadly”.
Neither leader wore a mask to ward off COVID-19, although members of their delegations did.
Xi said before the meeting the relationship between their two countries was not meeting global expectations, and statements afterward reflected a continuing rift.
“Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese and China’s internal affair,” Xi said, according to state media.
“Anyone that seeks to split Taiwan from China will be violating the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation.”
Beijing has long said it would bring Taiwan under its control and has not ruled out the use of force to do so.
Taiwan’s presidential office said it welcomed Biden’s reaffirmation of U.S. policy. “This also once again fully demonstrates that the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait is the common expectation of the international community,” it said.
U.S.-China relations have been roiled in recent years by growing tensions over issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, trade practices and U.S. restrictions on Chinese technology.
But U.S. officials said there have been quiet efforts by both Beijing and Washington over the past two months to repair relations.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters in Bali earlier that the meeting aimed to stabilise the relationship and to create a “more certain atmosphere” for U.S. businesses.
She said Biden had been clear with China about national security concerns regarding restrictions on sensitive U.S. technologies and had raised concern about the reliability of Chinese supply chains for commodities.
Biden and Xi, who have spoken on five phone or video calls since January 2021, last met in person during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.
G20 summit host President Joko Widodo of Indonesia said he hoped the gathering on Tuesday could “deliver concrete partnerships that can help the world in its economic recovery”.
However, one of the main topics at the G20 will be Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Xi and Putin have grown close in recent years, bound by their shared distrust of the West, and reaffirmed their partnership just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. But China has been careful not to provide any direct material support that could trigger Western sanctions against it.
At an East Asia summit in Cambodia on Sunday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang emphasised the “irresponsibility” of nuclear threats, suggesting China was uncomfortable with Russia’s nuclear rhetoric, a senior U.S. official said.
The West has accused Russia of making irresponsible statements on the possible use of nuclear weapons after invading its neighbour Ukraine in February. Russia has in turn accused the West of “provocative” nuclear rhetoric.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he will address the G20 by videolink on Tuesday.