The call took place on the same day that Biden announced a Pentagon review of national security strategies relating to China. The leaders discussed a wide range of issues including climate change and nuclear weapons proliferation, and Biden also confronted Xi on several contentious topics, according to a White House readout of the call.
“President Biden 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.
Biden said that he spoke to Xi to “offer good wishes to the Chinese people for Lunar New Year” in a tweet after the call, adding that he “also shared concerns about Beijing’s economic practices, human rights abuses, and coercion of Taiwan.”
I spoke today with President Xi to offer good wishes to the Chinese people for Lunar New Year. I also shared concerns about Beijing’s economic practices, human rights abuses, and coercion of Taiwan. I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people.
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 11, 2021
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said that Xi rejected Biden’s stance on Taiwan and human rights, saying that “the U.S. should respect China’s core interests and act with caution,” according to The Associated Press.
Biden’s interaction with Xi came after conversations with Asian and European allies, as well as a slew of other world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Aside from a congratulatory message from Xi following Biden’s election in November, it was the first direct contact between the pair since the U.S. president took office last month.
The call was also the first between Xi and a sitting U.S. president since last March, when his relationship with Trump was rapidly deteriorating amid the escalating COVID-19 pandemic. Biden and Xi discussed the pandemic and the “shared challenges of global health security” during Wednesday’s call.
Trade is a key sticking point for any hopes to mend the currently frosty relationship between Washington and Beijing, with Trump having sparked what is widely seen as a trade war with China during his time in the White House. Biden has not yet decided whether to lift the more than $350 billion in tariffs that Trump placed on Chinese goods, although the administration indicated it would work with Congress to carefully review the policy.
“As is the case with other areas of our relationship with China, [Biden] will take a multilateral approach to engaging with China, and that includes evaluating the tariffs currently in place,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a news conference on January 25.
Biden and Xi were well acquainted prior to Wednesday’s call. During a CBS interview on Sunday, Biden estimated that he had spent dozens of hours and traveled “17,000 miles” with the Chinese president while he served as former President Barack Obama‘s vice president.
Newsweek reached out to the White House and the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. for comment.