Biden and Xi Jinping hold phone call ahead of Yellen's trip to China

President Biden holds a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping

President Joe Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the phone Tuesday, a call the White House described as a way for the two leaders to “check in” and responsibly manage the strained U.S.-China relationship.

“Intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage tensions, address misperceptions and prevent unintended conflict,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters on Monday. “This call is one way to do that.”

During the call with Xi, the first such phone meeting since July 2022, Biden raised a host of U.S. concerns, according to a White House readout of the call.

Specifically, Biden confronted Xi on China’s “unfair trade policies and non-market economic practices,” the White House said. The president also told Xi that he would continue to take “necessary actions” to block China’s access to U.S. technology if it poses a national security risk.

In February, for example, Biden launched a probe into Chinese smart cars, prompted by concerns that they could undermine U.S. national security by connecting to American infrastructure and extracting driver data.

Along with the U.S.-China economic relationship, the two leaders discussed tensions over Taiwan and China’s support for Russia in its Ukraine invasion. Biden also raised the prospect of cybersecurity threats, especially ahead of November’s U.S. presidential election.

“We are being crystal clear about our concern that any country interfere or influence our elections,” a senior administration official said Monday.

The last time Biden and Xi met in person was in November, on the sidelines of a summit in Woodside, California.

There, the leaders agreed to resume military-to-military communications between the U.S. and China. Since then, there have been several significant meetings and conversations between military leadership, with more expected later this year, the Biden administration official said.

On Wednesday, Biden’s top economic envoy, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, is scheduled to depart for China to hold face-to-face meetings with her counterparts over five days in Guangzhou and Beijing. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also plans to visit China later this year.

“The U.S.-China economic relationship is unquestionably now on firmer footing than it was two years ago,” a senior Treasury official said Monday on a press call to preview Yellen’s trip. “We know that there are deep challenges and disagreements in this relationship, and that they won’t be solved overnight.”

Last week in a speech, Yellen warned of her concerns about China’s overproduction of clean energy products like solar panels, electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries. She said China was using this surplus to flood global markets and undercut pricing in green industries still developing in countries like the United States.

Yellen said this was one of the issues she planned to confront her Chinese counterparts about during her visit. The Chinese embassy in Washington later denied there was any overcapacity.

In recent weeks, the Treasury Department has also highlighted concerns about Beijing’s financial practices, specifically China’s alleged use of “early-stage” investments in U.S. tech sector companies as a way to access sensitive data.

Meetings like those Yellen plans to hold are part of the Biden’ administrations’s overall effort to stabilize relations between the superpowers after a years long communication freeze. That breakdown began with the Trump-era tariffs that sparked a near trade war, and continued after Biden imposed his own trade restrictions on the country.

“To take it back to that meeting last November, both President Biden and President Xi agreed that they would try to pick up the phone a bit more,” the senior administration official said. “Both sides realize that it’s important to do that to really manage relationships in a more responsible fashion.”

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