China President Xi Jinping delivered a stark warning to President Joe Biden ahead of a possible visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
“Those who play with fire will perish by it,” said China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This ominous comment came during a two-hour long phone call Thursday between Biden and Xi, the fifth such call since Biden took office last year. The White House and Beijing both described the call as extensive, but the issue of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan stood out for its acrimony.
In a press release after the call, the White House said that Biden “underscored that the United States policy has not changed” on the One-China Policy that disavows any recognition of Taiwanese independence.
At the same time, the Biden administration remains strongly opposed to any “unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
In contrast, Chinese state media outlets described the call as “in-depth,” but included Xi’s warning that Washington would invite consequences if it allowed Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan to take place.
“Public opinion shall not be violated, and if you play with fire you get burned. I hope the U.S. side can see this clearly,” Xi reportedly told Biden.
Though Biden has worked to keep lines of communication open with his Chinese counterpart, tensions remain high between their countries.
The two sides remain at odds over the war in Ukraine, with the U.S. urging China against providing direct support to Russia that would undercut Western sanctions over the war. Encounters with China’s military in the South China Sea have also grown more aggressive, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley in testimony this week.
But no issue is agitating the relationship more than U.S. support for Taiwan, especially Pelosi’s visit to the self-governing island. Last week, China warned that the U.S. should be ready to “bear the consequences” that would follow any visit.
Biden himself said that the U.S. military expressed concerns about the trip and CNN reported that Pentagon officials briefed Pelosi about the potential risks. Pelosi herself acknowledged the warning, but did not swear off her travel plans.
China and Xi are preparing for a major meeting of the Communist Party later this year in which Xi is expected to receive an unprecedented third term in office. Despite U.S. assurances that it does not support Taiwanese independence, Xi has not abandoned hopes to reunify the island with the mainland.
“I wouldn’t underestimate President Xi’s determination to assert China’s control” over Taiwan, CIA Director Bill Burns said last week.