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China’s Xi tells US Biden not to ‘play with fire’, stick to ‘one China’ policy over Taiwan

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with China's President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, November 15, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned his American counterpart Joe Biden not to “play with fire” over the Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), urging the US leader to abide by the “one China” policy.

Xi and Biden held a phone call for more than two hours on Thursday, the White House said in a statement, just three days after Beijing warned of “strong measures” if US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went through with a potential visit to self-ruled Taiwan.

“Public opinion cannot be violated. Those who play with fire will be burnt. I hope the US can clearly see this,” Xi said, according to a readout from the official Xinhua news agency. 

The scheduled phone call – the two leaders’ fifth since Biden came to power early last year – also touched on other issues, including strategic competition, global security and Ukraine. 

The strong warning is the latest in a string of similar warnings issued from Beijing in response to reports last week that the 82-year-old Pelosi, a Democrat who is second in the presidential line of succession, could pay a visit to Taipei in August.

Pelosi’s plan to visit the island — yet to be confirmed by the senior Democrat herself — was expected to dominate the phone conversation between Xi and Biden.

If Pelosi does visit Chinese Taipei, she will be the highest-ranking US politician to travel to the island since 1997.

To further escalate the already heightened tension between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group, including a guided missile destroyer and a guided missile cruiser, which had left Singapore on Monday, entered the South China Sea, which is almost entirely claimed by China.

The group is expected to sail through the Taiwan Strait, a strategically-sensitive waterway that separates the Chinese Taipei from mainland China.

US naval forces have been conducting such maneuvers near Chinese waters about once a month, irking Beijing, which considers the sailings as a sign of support for the self-governed island territory of Taiwan.

Xi further urged Biden to stick to the “one China” principle that recognizes Beijing, not Taipei, diplomatically, warning him against supporting Taiwan's independence.

Under the “one China” policy, nearly all countries across the globe recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over Chinese Taipei, including the US, which has no formal diplomatic ties with the territory but continues to support its anti-China stance and to supply it with massive amounts of armaments.

“This is about keeping the lines of communication open with the president of China, one of the most consequential bilateral relationships that we have, not just in that region, but around the world, because it touches so much,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters ahead of the call.

While Beijing and the US military are opposed to the planned visit by Pelosi, it has drawn support from both Republicans and Democrats in the US. However, US national security officials are, according to CNN, quietly working to convince Pelosi of the risks her potential visit to Taipei could pose during a highly-sensitive moment between China and Chinese Taipei.

Biden believes the trip may cross red lines for China. Last week, the American president said the US military “thinks it’s not a good idea right now.”

Biden has by and large continued the policies of his predecessor former President Donald Trump vis-à-vis China. But he has sought to stabilize ties with Beijing through regular conversations with his counterpart.

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