Joe Biden presses Xi Jinping on ‘abuses in Xinjiang’ in first call with Chinese leader
Joe Biden clashed with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, over the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, in their first phone call since Mr Biden came to power. Mr Biden on Thursday said he spoke to his Chinese counterpart for two hours on Wednesday night. “If we don’t get moving, they are going to eat our lunch,” Mr Biden told reporters. Wednesday’s call was also the first between Mr Xi and a US president since the Chinese leader spoke with former President Donald Trump in March last year. Since then, relations between the two countries have become the worst they have been for decades. Mr Biden told Mr Xi it was a US priority to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region and “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 in a statement. President Xi pushed back, warning that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang – home to China’s persecuted Uighur Muslims – were “China’s internal affairs and concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the US side should respect China’s core interests and act prudently,” the foreign ministry said. Mr Xi emphasised that China and the US can accomplish much for their mutual benefit when they work together, while confrontation “will definitely be disastrous for both countries and the world,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday. Despite the disagreements, the Chinese leader sounded a positive tone, expressing hope for better relations between the two sides. “You have said that America can be defined in one word: Possibilities. We hope the possibilities will now point toward an improvement of China-US relations,” the foreign ministry statement quoted Mr Xi as saying. He also said that China and the US could have in-depth communications on matters concerning their relationship and major international and regional issues, and that their military, economic, financial and law enforcement authorities “may also have more contacts”. The White House said that Mr Biden and Mr Xi also exchanged views on countering the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as on the shared challenges of climate change and preventing weapons proliferation – a reference to the US desire to cooperate with Beijing in persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. A senior Biden administration official told reporters ahead of the call Mr Biden would be “practical, hard-headed, clear-eyed” in dealings with Mr Xi, but wanted to ensure the two leaders had the opportunity to have an open line of communication, despite US concerns about Chinese behaviour.
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