What Biden and China President Xi Jinping talked about in their first phone call

February 11, 2021, 3:49 AM UTC

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U.S. President Joseph Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday spoke by phone for the first time since Biden was elected in November and assumed office in January.

During the phone call, Biden “underscored his fundamental concerns” about the Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and around Taiwan, the White House said in a Wednesday statement.

The heads of state also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and the prevention of weapons proliferation, Reuters reported.

Chinese state-owned news outlet CCTV said on Thursday morning that Xi told Biden that U.S.-China cooperation will benefit both countries and the globe, while confrontation will be a disaster for the U.S., China, and the rest of the world.

According to CCTV, Xi told Biden that Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang are China’s “internal affairs” and said the U.S. should respect China’s sovereignty and core interests.

Under former President Donald Trump, U.S.-China relations deteriorated to their worst state in decades. Conflict between the world’s two largest economies erupted over trade, technology, human rights, student and journalist visas, and the coronavirus.

The Trump administration and Congress sharply criticized Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in 2019, its imposition of a controversial national security law in Hong Kong in 2020, and Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in China’s far-western Xinjiang province.

The U.S. has also been critical of the Chinese government’s toughening stance on Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims is a province of China.

Less than a week before Biden’s call, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, and discussed Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, according to a Feb. 5 White House statement. Blinken said in late January that he agreed with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s characterization of Chinese government actions against Xinjiang’s Uighur minority as a “genocide.”

Yang responded to Blinken’s comments by telling the U.S. that “no one can stop the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

During the call with Xi, Biden also expressed concern about “Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices,” the White House statement said, without giving more detail.

The Trump administration’s long-running trade war with China resulted in Beijing hiking tariffs on a number of U.S. goods; many of the tariffs remain in place. A senior U.S. administration official told Reuters on Wednesday evening that U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will remain in place while the Biden administration reviews U.S. trade policy, and said the U.S. is looking at restricting sensitive technology exports to China.