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Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on President Biden's Call with President Xi Jinping of China

March 18, 2022

Via Teleconference

2:53 P.M. EDT

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Thanks, everyone, for joining. I just -- at the top, I want to say, you know, incredibly sorry for the delay today. We really try for this not to ever happen. And just some scheduling and logistical challenges today put us a little bit back. So, again, true apologies, and we know how important your time is.

So, that being said, you know, welcome to the call. This call is on background. It is attributable to a "senior administration official." And this call is embargoed until the end of the call.

For your awareness and not for reporting, the speaker on this call is [senior administration official]. And with that, I'll turn it over to you to give some remarks, and then we'll take some questions. Thanks, again, everyone.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official]. And I'll just reiterate: Everybody, thanks for your patience today. And I'll, with that, just get right to it.

You all have hopefully now seen the readout that has gone out. So, just building on that with a little bit more detail for all of you, you know, the call between President Biden and President Xi this morning lasted approximately two hours. Of course, it was conducted by a secure video link.

I would say the conversation was direct. It was substantive and it was detailed. The two leaders spent the preponderance of their time discussing Russia's unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, as well as the implications of the crisis for U.S.-China relations and the international order.

President Biden shared with President Xi a detailed review of how things have developed to this point, his assessment of the situation today, and President Biden underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.

The President described our assessment of Putin's actions and his miscalculations. He also described the unity of the United States and its Allies and partners, the unprecedented coordination with our European, NATO, and Indo-Pacific partners, and the overwhelming global unity and condemnation of Russia -- Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as well as the support for Ukraine.

President Biden made clear the implication and consequences of China providing material support -- if China were to provide material support -- to Russia as it prosecutes its brutal war in Ukraine, not just for China's relationship with the United States but for the wider world.

And he stressed concerns, as you've heard us speak about more broadly, that Russia is spreading disinformation about biological weapons in Ukraine as a pretext for a false-flag operation and underscored concerns about echoing such disinformation.

President Xi raised Taiwan. President Biden reiterated that the United States remains committed to our one-China policy and is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances. And he underscored the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The two leaders also discussed the importance of managing competition between the two countries -- between the United States and China -- of addressing areas of strategic risk and maintaining open lines of communication. And to that end, they tasked their teams to follow up on the leaders' discussion in the days and weeks ahead.

Of course, today's conversation followed up on National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan's meeting with his counterpart in Rome earlier this week in which the two agreed that the two presidents would speak -- again, as both sides believe that there is no substitute for leader-to-leader engagement.

And, as you all know, this call comes amid the intensive engagement we've had with allies and partners in Europe and the Indo-Pacific in recent weeks.

And with that, I will be happy to take your questions.

Q: Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing this. First, I wanted to ask if President Biden warned Xi Jinping specifically about sanctions, or did he refer to more vague consequences should China provide any support for Russia in the war? And regardless, what was Xi's response to that?

Yeah, I appreciate that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Of course. Well, thanks, Michael. So, you know, as I mentioned, the President described the implications, you know, if China provides material support to Russia as it prosecutes this brutal war, but I'm not going to talk -- I'm not going to, sort of, publicly lay out our options from here.

We're going to continue to talk directly with China, as well as to our Allies and partners, about the broader situation. And I will let the PRC characterize what Xi Jinping's comments were.

Q: Thank you. Do you have an assessment of whether or not China has made a decision to go down this road with Russia?

And then, second: More broadly, was there any talk of, sort of, the commercial ramifications that have happened for Russia as a result of this war, with big Western companies leaving and the prospect that that could happen to China if they were to get involved in assisting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Aamer. On your first question, I'm not going to comment on specifics at this time.

On the question about the actions -- the economic responses to Russia and the private sector: Yeah, I would say, you know, the President, you know, really laid out in a lot of detail the unified response from not only, you know, governments around the world but also the private sector, to Russia's brutal aggression in Ukraine.

And, you know, the President made clear that, you know, there would be -- that there would likely be consequences for those who are -- who would -- who would step in to support Russia at this time.

Q: Thank you. Can you tell me if the President expressly asked Xi -- Xi Jinping -- to intercede with Moscow, with Putin, to stop the war and specifically to withdraw from (inaudible)?

And did Xi offer in any way to use his influence with Putin

to end the aggression?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Ellen. Yeah, look, you know, the call wasn't really -- and I mean, the President really wasn't making specific requests of China. He was laying out his assessment of the situation, what he thinks makes sense, and the implications of certain actions.

You know, I think our view is that China will make its own decisions, and so I'd describe that as sort of the nature of the call. And again, on any response from President Xi, you know, you'd have to talk to Beijing.

Q: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for doing the call. Can you tell us if President Xi made any guarantees to President Biden that he would not help Russia?

And did the President come away from the call with a sense that President Xi is ready to condemn the invasion? Because China's still hasn't done that publicly. Did President Xi condemn the invasion in this call, or did President Biden come away with this with a sense that he will do so? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, look, on your first question, you know, China will make its own decisions. And I think you probably have seen the readout that they have put out; I would refer you to that as their characterization of President Xi's words.

You know, as I said, I think the President was -- President Biden was candid and direct in discussing his assessment of the situation and, you know, what he believes would be necessary, in order to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.

But, you know, I think, in terms of what President Xi said, again, I'm going to leave it to the Chinese side to characterize their words.

MODERATOR: Can we do our next question, please?

Q: Thanks so much. And thanks for doing this. Two questions for you. Did President Biden get the sense that President Xi was caught off guard by the nature of the Russian invasion and how it's gone? And during this two-hour call, did Xi ever refer to it as an invasion?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, I was taking down notes to make sure I remember your questions.

You know, look, on the first question: You know, I think, you know, the National Security Advisor has -- has spoken publicly about our assessment of Beijing's reaction to the invasion. And so, I will just point you to his comments. I don't have them exactly in front of me, but I think he's been on the record about this.

You know, and in terms of how Xi referred to -- you know, referred to the situation, again, I would just point you to their own words as they have characterized them.

Q: Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing the call. Can you just share a little bit of color on whether the President felt more or less optimistic about where China st- -- where President Xi stands on the issue of Ukraine after this call?

And just a follow-up: The Chinese readout suggests that President Xi complained to President Biden about people in the U.S. sending wrong signals to Taiwan's independence forces. Can you detail President Biden's response to this? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much, Patsy. Look, I -- you know, I think, as we felt with the conversation in Rome with Director Yang earlier this week and the conversation with, you know, President Xi here today, this was really about President Biden being able to lay out very clearly in substantial detail, with a lot of facts, and a lot of just -- you know, really walking President Xi through the situation, making very, very clear our views, the views of others, what we have laid out in the previous months and the actions we're taking now.

And I think it was the -- I think, from our perspective, we will -- we will see what decisions China makes in the days and weeks ahead.

And so, I think it was sort of less about coming away with a particular view out of the conversation today and more about making sure, again, that they were able to really have that direct, candid and detailed and very substantive conversation at the leader level. And we know there really is no replacement for that.

So, that's how I would think about the conversation today.

In terms of the question about Taiwan, President Biden was very clear that our policy has not changed, that -- you know, he reiterated our one-China policy based on the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Communiqués, the Six Assurances.

And he underscored, as well, concerns about Beijing's coercive and provocative actions across the Taiwan Strait. President Biden made clear that we remain opposed to any unilateral changes to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

And, you know, I would just remind, obviously, that President Biden himself voted for the Taiwan Relations Act, and he's firmly committed to the principles in it, and that the Biden administration has consistently demonstrated rock-solid support for Taiwan and will continue to do so.

But, again, you know, President Biden's response was really about just reaffirming our continued, consistent policy -- very longstanding policy -- while underscoring concerns about Beijing's coercive and provocative actions across the Strait.

MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, [senior administration official]. And thanks, everyone, for joining.

You know, again, very sorry for the delay. You know, I know we'll have a press briefing shortly, so hopefully more questions can be taken there. And then if there's still more that you all need, we're here to provide any sort of help that you might -- you might need.

So, just as a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a "senior administration official." And the embargo on the contents of the call have now lifted.

So, thanks again, everyone. Have a good day.

3:07 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on President Biden's Call with President Xi Jinping of China Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354996

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