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

July 28, 2022

Via Teleconference

3:27 P.M. EDT

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. And thanks, everyone, for joining us today.

So, as a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to a "senior administration official," and the contents of the call are embargoed until the end of the call.

For your awareness and not for reporting, our speaker today is [senior administration official]. [Senior administration official] will have some remarks at the top, and then we'll kind of take as many questions as we can. So, over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official]. And hey, everybody. Good to be with you today.

So as you all are aware, President Biden spoke with President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China this morning. This was the fifth time the two presidents have spoken since President Biden came into office. And the two concluded their conversation over the course of about 2 hours and 20 minutes.

And since I know some folks are asking: The President, as you may have seen from the photo, was in the Oval Office for the call. And in the room were the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan; Secretary of State Blinken; Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer; Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell; and Senior Director Laura Rosenberger.

The call this morning follows the two leaders' virtual conversation back in March and builds on a series of recent engagements between the National Security Advisor, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Chairman Milley, and Secretary Yellen, and their PRC counterparts.

President Biden has continually emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to ensure that the United States and China manage our differences and work together on areas of shared interest. This call was part of our ongoing efforts to do that.

They also discussed the value of meeting face-to-face and agreed to have their teams follow up to find a mutually agreeable time to do so.

Overall, I would say that the conversation was substantive, it was in-depth, and it was candid. And the conversation basically took three parts. I should note that I'm assuming all of you have seen the readout that we put out, so I'm not going to repeat that in detail. But essentially to walk you through the conversation, three main parts:

First was a detailed discussion of areas where the two countries can work together, with particular focus on climate change and health security, as well as counternarcotics. The two teams will be following up on these areas. President Biden also raised the need to resolve the cases of American citizens who are wrongfully detained or subject to exit bans in China, as well as longstanding concerns about human rights.

Second, the two leaders exchanged views on Russia's war in Ukraine and the global impacts it is having.

Third, they had an in-depth discussion of Taiwan. They discussed, you know, as they always do, areas of difference. And the two, I would say, on Taiwan had a -- had a direct and honest discussion. President Biden reaffirmed the United States' commitment to our One China Policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.

He underscored to President Xi the United States' opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and commitment to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The two discussed that the United States and China have differences when it comes to Taiwan, but that they have managed those for over 40 years and that keeping an open line of communication on this issue is essential to doing so.

Finally, just a bit on how the call came about: This call, I think as many of you know, has been in the works for quite some time. I know the President has said many times in recent weeks that he was planning to speak to Xi soon.

A bit more detail on that: The National Security Advisor proposed that the two leaders speak in the near future when he met with Director Yang Jiechi in Luxembourg in mid-June. The PRC side followed up on that when Foreign Minister Wong met with Secretary Blinken in Bali, with Foreign Minister Wong proposing a date for the call.

With that, I think I'll leave it there and look forward to your questions. Thanks so much.

MODERATOR: Great. Could we queue up the questions -- sorry, queue up the directions to ask a question, please?

Q: My first question was about Taiwan. According to China's state news agency, President Xi told President Biden that "Public opinion shall not be violated. And if you play with fire, you get burned. Hope the U.S. side can see this clearly."

Could you just give us the U.S.'s version of this portion of the call? Was it clear that this was specifically about Taiwan? Was it perceived by the U.S. as a direct threat? And what is the potential retaliation from Beijing that the U.S. is most worried about at this point?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thanks so much for the question. So first of all, I'll just say at the top: On this question and others, I'm not going to get into characterizing the PRC's position on things. I will leave that to them.

I will note that President Xi used similar language in the conversation that the two leaders had back in November. But, you know, I'm not going to get into parsing the various metaphors that the PRC regularly tends to use on these issues.

You know, as I said, the conversation between the two about Taiwan: It was direct and it was honest. And the two leaders, you know, basically discussed the fact that the United States and China have differences when it comes to Taiwan but that they have managed those for over 40 years, and that keeping an open line of communication on this issue is essential to continuing to do so. And for us, you know, direct communication between the leaders is the most essential aspect of that.

I think I'll leave it there.

Q: Hey, [senior administration official], thanks for doing this. I know you're probably going to give me the talking point that you're not going to get ahead of any schedule for the House Speaker, but it's pretty clear that this is part of the Taiwan discussion that likely came up. And I'm curious what the President told Xi Jinping here on this, and whether you're planning to brief Pelosi on this portion of the call -- if the President is going to speak to her directly on this.

And then also on one other area that you need China's help on, with respect to energy and how receptive China was on the price cap proposal: Is China willing at all to use its spare refining capacity to bring down the price? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much, Jenny, for the question. And you well anticipated what I was going to give you, which is, you know, as I noted that the top, the two leaders had an in-depth discussion of Taiwan. And as I noted, the President reaffirmed, you know, our policy. But I'm not going to get into the details beyond that on the question of the Speaker's potential travel.

I'd note that, you know, no trip has been announced. And as we've said previously, it's her decision.

On the question of price caps: This is not something that was discussed in any detail in the conversation.

Q: Okay. I'm just -- yeah, not sure if you can hear me.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We got you.

Q: Okay, great. So, I mean, looking more broadly at what seems to be discussed on the call, does the administration feel it can move forward on other issues like climate change and health security while tensions are so high over Taiwan? I mean, could you give us a bit of insight into the level of China's displeasure over this? And is it expected to make progress in other areas difficult?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much for the question. I'd say a few things on this. One: You know, we've been saying from the beginning of this administration that, you know, we believe it's important for the United States and China to work together on areas where our interests align, even when we have substantial differences or are engaged in competition in a number of different areas.

So, you know, our view is that this is what responsible nations do. They manage areas where they have differences, and they find ways to work together for the good of their own peoples and for the common good of the people of the world. Certainly, climate change, health security, counternarcotics -- I'd put those all in that bucket.

You know, we've been very clear, from our perspective, that those are things that we need to be able to do. And I do think that, again, part of the reason that we think it's important for the leaders to be having these conversations with one another and for their senior officials to be having these conversations with one another, as they have in recent months and as we anticipate going forward, is very much in order to be able to manage these issues.

I, candidly, think it's particularly important for us to have those kinds of conversations, particularly at the leader level, when tensions are high.

Q: Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing the call. Quickly, to follow up on Taiwan -- I'm curious: Did President Biden convey to Xi at all that he has no control really over whether Pelosi travels to Taiwan, given she's in Congress and it's a coequal branch of government? I wonder if that was part of his message.

And then, on the economy: If recent Chinese readouts are any measure, the recent -- from past calls, it sounds like Xi put a stronger emphasis on the importance of, sort of, economic coordination between the two countries. So I'm just curious: Did you assess that as a major part of the conversation or major concern for China? And what does that indicate to you about the -- about China's confidence in the health of its economy? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Michael. Appreciate the questions. Let me take the economic question first.

Again, not wanting to get into characterizing the PRC side's views as a matter of principle, but we'd simply say, you know, certainly it is something that did -- that did come up and that he did -- you know, he did note belief in the importance of doing so.

I would say that I don't think the -- I wouldn't necessarily read a difference in emphasis in public presentation as a difference in emphasis in private presentation -- the two don't always align -- in, I think, how they read things out.

So -- but, you know, in other words, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't sort of read too much into that, in terms of what was actually discussed.

But certainly, you know, coordination between the United States and China on macroeconomic issues is something that is of great importance. It's something we've done for quite some time. It's something Secretary Yellen discussed with Vice Premier Liu He when they had their virtual meeting on July 4th. So I think it's something that we certainly will be continuing to discuss.

You know, again, on the question of Taiwan, I'm not going to get into any details beyond what I've already laid out, other than to note as a statement of fact that, of course, the legislative branch is a separate branch of government, separate and coequal branch of government. So I'll leave it there.

Q: Hi. Thanks for taking my question. The readout you gave and the readout that was sent around doesn't mention whether tariffs were discussed. I'd just like to ask that question. Did they get into that at all? Has there been a discussion of if the U.S. removed some tariffs, is China reciprocating by moving -- removing some of the tariffs that it imposed in retaliation?

And now that this call has been completed, does that sort of clear the way for President Biden to make a decision on what he's going to do about tariffs?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thanks. Thanks so much. It's funny when other stories push what has been the number-one story lower down the totem pole. I was waiting for that one.

Yeah, so the -- on the question of tariffs, President Biden explained to President Xi, you know, President Biden's core concerns with China's unfair economic practices, which harm American workers and harm American families. But he did not discuss any potential steps he might take with President Xi. And I would -- it would be wrong to believe that somehow a decision on any next steps was somehow waiting for this conversation.

Q: Hi, this is actually Kristen Welker on the call for Molly. Thank you, guys, so much for doing this. We really appreciate it.

Two questions. I do have one on Taiwan, but I have another one as well. On Taiwan, did the President come away from the call with the sense that President Xi would see a visit by the House Speaker as escalatory?

And my second question is on Russia. Does the President feel and did he make any headway as it relates to convincing President Xi to alter what administration officials have called behavior that has "acquiesced" to Russia? How did he view that part of the call? Was there any progress made there? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. So I'm not going to sort of characterize the President's view. I'll let him speak for himself on his views of the conversation, but I'm happy to, again, speak to what the two of them discussed.

And, you know, on that front -- on sort of Russia and Ukraine -- I would say, the -- you know, that the two leaders really exchanged a sense of both where things stand at the moment with respect to the conflict as well as their, you know, concerns about where things might develop. I would not characterize any particular breakthroughs that I personally saw in that conversation.

But obviously, given, you know, the sort of global impact of Russia's war in Ukraine, as well as the very specific impact on the Ukrainian people and on the European continent, it's an incredibly important issue for the two leaders to continue to discuss and for President Biden to make very clear, you know, his concerns there.

And, you know, on Taiwan, once again, you know, I'm not going to get into any further details about the conversation.

Q: Hi, can you hear me?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hello.

Q: Yes, can you hear me? Hi, can you hear me?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: Oh, excellent. So one question is about the criticism that China is putting out on the CHIPS Act. They're criticizing it as a decoupling attempt by the U.S. that will benefit no one. Can we have a response to that?

And then my second question: Did the leaders discuss South China Sea tensions? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. Thanks for teeing me up with a nice softball there on the CHIPS Act, which I think everybody saw the President's reaction when it passed the House.

Yeah, so on the CHIPS Act, what I would just say on that is, you know, number one: You know, I think all of you have heard us talk about what our approach is to our -- to this administration's China strategy. Essentially, it's three parts: It's invest in ourselves and align with our allies and partners in order to compete with China.

And so, the passage of the CHIPS Act is one of the most important steps that we've been working on in order to really advance the invest piece of our effort.

You know, enabling American innovation, enabling American leadership on a critical area of technology in order to make sure that we continue to have technological leadership here in the United States and don't cede that to China is unbelievably important.

And so, you know, from our perspective, we see the CHIPS Act as very much about ourselves and strengthening ourselves from within. And so, you know, I think that that's very much how we see that. And that's -- you know, I think that that's, you know, really, again, a core -- a core pillar of our approach.

They did not have an opportunity to talk in depth about the South China Sea, but did talk, broadly speaking, about concerns about ways in which the, you know, Chinese activities are at odds with the international rules-based order.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you. And I think that's all the time we have for questions. But I believe, [senior administration official], you had one more thing you wanted to add?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, great. Thanks, [moderator]. Yeah, I just wanted to note -- again, just to come back to a point from what I mentioned at the top, and then it was, I think, relevant to the question on, sort of, cooperation and yet at a moment of tensions.

And one thing I would just note is that the two leaders very specifically tasked their teams to follow up on a number of these areas. There was an exchange at the end about how much work they'd created for their teams in terms of following up on the specific pieces, and again, a conversation about a face-to-face meeting being worked out between the teams.

So I would say that, from my perspective, there was very much a clear, affirmative agenda that was put forward and agreed to in -- you know, by the leaders for the teams to work toward. And I think that's a really important piece to keep in mind that was, frankly, a pretty significant part of the conversation today.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. And thanks, everyone, again, for joining.

As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a "senior administration official." And the contents are going to -- embargo is going to lift after the call ends. Thanks again.

3:47 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on President Biden's Call with President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/357001

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