Washington: US President Joe Biden revealed Thursday that his first phone call with Xi Jinping lasted a marathon two hours, during which he challenged his Chinese counterpart on human rights, trade and regional muscle-flexing.
But an increasingly assertive Xi pushed back, according to Chinese state media, telling Biden that issues such as Beijing’s crushing of opposition in Hong Kong and sabre-rattling on Taiwan are China’s “internal affairs.”
“Last night, I was in the phone for two straight hours with Xi Jinping,” Biden told reporters — an unusually long interaction for a US president, with whom even face-to-face meetings rarely stretch beyond an hour.
Biden warned afterwards that if the United States doesn’t “get moving” on China policy, “they’re going to eat our lunch.”
Wednesday’s call — the first between the two since Biden took office in January — was to set the stage for the relationship under the new US leader, after it frayed under former president Donald Trump.
Beijing has tested US patience since Xi came to power, and Trump targeted it with trade tariffs.
Biden is under pressure at home and abroad to maintain Trump’s stance, as the West looks to hold China to account for human rights abuses and at a time when some in the United States and wider world blame Beijing for failing to contain the coronavirus pandemic, which was first discovered in the central city of Wuhan.
The president “underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan,” the White House said after the call.
Chinese state media, reporting the call, said Xi had emphasized the issues were “China’s internal affairs and are related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”