Biden and Xi discuss Taiwan amid spike in cross-strait tensions

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Intl desk, Oct 06: US President Joe Biden has said that he has spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan after Beijing sent a record number of military aircraft into the island’s air defence zone (ADIZ).

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool/File Photo

Asked by a reporter about “China’s provocation over Taiwan”, Biden said on Tuesday that he and Xi had discussed the issue.

“I’ve spoken with Xi (Chinese President Xi Jinping) about Taiwan,” Biden said at the White House. “We agree, we’ll abide by the Taiwan agreement, and we made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement.”

Taiwan said it tracked a record 56 Chinese aircraft in its ADIZ on Monday, in a series of military manoeuvres that began on Friday, China’s National Day, and prompted the island to scramble fighter jets in response. Beijing has stepped up cross-strait activities this year, with the number of recorded incidents on track to be double the level of 2020.

While the United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with the self-ruled island, which China claims as its own, it is bound by law to protect Taiwan and is its biggest source of military and political support.

Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang warned on Tuesday that China’s actions risked regional peace and stability, while President Tsai Ing-wen warned of the “catastrophic consequences” for the Asia Pacific region if Taiwan were to fall to China.

“If its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself,” Tsai wrote in an article that was published on Tuesday in the prominent journal, Foreign Affairs.

China has blamed the US for the increased tensions, with the two economic giants at odds over not only Taiwan but issues including trade, Hong Kong, the situation in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang and the coronavirus.

Earlier, the US announced that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan would meet China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in Switzerland on Wednesday for their first face-to-face discussion since acrimonious talks in Alaska in March, which also involved US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The White House said in a statement that the meeting follows up on Biden’s call with Xi on September 9 “as we continue to seek to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.”

That call ended a nearly seven-month gap in direct communication between the leaders, and they discussed the need to ensure that competition between the two – with relations sinking to their lowest level in decades – does not veer into conflict.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper quoted an official familiar with the arrangements for the Zurich meeting as saying the objective is “to rebuild communication channels and implement consensus reached” between Xi and Biden.

“It’s not a thaw. It’s not a re-embrace of engagement,” Evan Medeiros, an Asia specialist during former President Barack Obama’s administration, said about the Zurich meeting.

“It’s about getting serious and systematic about competition. That means being very clear about boundaries, our perceptions of their behaviour, particularly the recent number of air force strike packages around Taiwan.”

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES