China’s President Xi Jinping warned the U.S. Thursday that nations who “play with fire will perish by it.” The shocking assertion came on a phone conversation with President Joe Biden.
The primary issue that arose during the two-hour and 17-minute phone call was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) potential visit to Taiwan. That possibility was reported to be a strong point of contention by both sides.
China’s state news agency said that Xi told Biden that “public opinion shall not be violated.”
He added, “I hope the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this.”
The Chinese president emphasized that Washington should follow the “one-China” principle and that Beijing strongly opposes outside interference with Taiwan.
China has maintained for decades that the island nation is merely a breakaway region. And as the mainland’s strength has grown, its stand on Taiwan has become even more aggressive.
Biden replied that American policy on Taiwan remains the same. He restated opposition to unilateral moves to change the island republic’s status or undermine the region’s stability and peace.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry issued a statement afterwards thanking the U.S. for its support.
Pelosi had a visit to Taiwan scheduled for April but had to cancel after testing positive for coronavirus. She would have been the highest ranking U.S. official to make the trip since 1997. The trip has not been firmly rescheduled, but rumors spread last week that she still plans to go.
Pelosi said last week that it is “important for us to show support for Taiwan.”
The day before the call between the presidents, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian cautioned that there will be “firm and resolute measures” if Pelosi makes the trip to Taiwan.
He also warned of “serious consequences.”
The tense Thursday call ended with plans to set up the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office. Readouts from the conversation on both sides did not mention the in-person plan, but a U.S. official told reporters that it is “being worked out between the teams.”
American support for Taiwan is critical, and would be more solid with stronger leadership. As the president has bumbled around one misstated policy declaration after another, if Pelosi’s trip does not have clear direction — if it happens — it may result in even more confusion.