Biden raises human rights with China’s Xi during four-hour meeting

President Biden on Monday raised concerns about China’s human rights record, specifically its treatment toward Uyghur Muslims and the people of Hong Kong, during an hours-long meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The virtual meeting ran a gamut of topics, according to a White House readout of the call. The two men discussed “the complex nature of relations between our two countries and the importance of managing competition responsibly.” They spoke about climate change, human rights, Taiwan and economic practices.

“As in previous discussions, the two leaders covered areas where our interests align, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge,” the White House said. “President Biden welcomed the opportunity to speak candidly and straightforwardly to President Xi about our intentions and priorities across a range of issues.”

The meeting lasted roughly four hours.

Biden specifically brought up concerns with China’s behavior in the Xinjiang province, where administration officials have accused the government of carrying out genocide against Uyghur Muslims. Biden also raised concerns about China’s conduct in Tibet and Hong Kong, in the latter of which a national security law has been used to crack down on protests.

Biden also reiterated the United States’s commitment to the “one China” policy on Taiwan, meaning the administration does not recognize Taiwan as a separate state. Tensions flared between the two countries recently as China stepped up military flights into Taiwan’s airspace. Last month, Biden pledged to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from China.

Human rights has been seen as a particularly important issue as tensions between the U.S. and China rise. The Biden administration is said to be considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over human rights, though White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not confirm that was the case on Monday.

While Biden pressed Xi on human rights and the need for economic fairness, according to the White House, he called for a relationship between the two powers that maintains “guardrails” to avoid an escalating conflict.

Biden highlighted climate change and global energy supplies as areas of common interest, according to the White House, as well as foreign policy concerns such as Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran.

“President Biden underscored that the United States will continue to stand up for its interests and values and, together with our allies and partners, ensure the rules of the road for the 21st century advance an international system that is free, open, and fair,” the White House said. “He emphasized the priority he places on far-reaching investments at home while we align with allies and partners abroad to take on the challenges of our time.”

The readout made no mention of a hypersonic missile China tested weeks earlier or the risk of military conflict.

Monday’s call marked the first one-on-one meeting between the two since Biden took office, though they had spoken over the phone and met previously during Biden’s time as vice president.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other top Biden administration officials were on hand for the meeting, which took place in the Roosevelt Room via video conference. Two television screens were set up in the room displaying Xi. Several Chinese government officials also joined the video call.

The closely watched meeting will be a test for Biden’s approach to China. Biden has made countering China’s influence and outcompeting Beijing on the world stage a central argument for his economic and foreign policy agendas. At the same time, the Biden administration wants to work with China to curb global warming and address global health.

Officials lowered expectations for any specific deliverables ahead of the meeting, saying Biden’s intention was to deepen communication with China to ensure that competition between the countries does not escalate into conflict. 

Tags Antony Blinken Biden foreign policy China Foreign policy Jake Sullivan Janet Yellen Jen Psaki Joe Biden US-China relations

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