China’s Version of Xi-Biden Call Features Major Differences from White House Report

Xi Jinping, China's president, at the West Kowloon Station in Hong Kong, China, on Thursday, June 30, 2022. Xi arrived in Hong Kong for its 25th anniversary of Chinese rule, in his first trip to the city since overseeing twin crackdowns on political dissent and Covid-19 that risked the former …
Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

China’s Xinhua News Agency and its Global Times government propaganda outlets described the phone call on Thursday between dictator Xi Jinping and leftist President Joe Biden as “candid,” highlighting Xi lecturing Biden not to acknowledge the reality that Taiwan is a country.

“Public opinion cannot be defied. Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this,” Xinhua, the state newswire service, quoted Xi as saying.

State media has repeatedly claimed that Xi has threatened Biden with some variation of the “those who play with fire” on past phone calls, but the Global Times nonetheless attempted to describe the use of the belligerent language in this call, which allegedly lasted over two hours, as novel, describing Xi’s remarks as “impressive.”

The Chinese government’s interpretation of the phone call, allegedly requested by Biden, differed from the White House readout of the conversation. Biden’s administration highlighted an alleged discussion on “climate change” and “health security.” While the Chinese media outlets mentioned Xi discussing the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, they did not indicate that the two held any meaningful talks on climate change.

The White House claimed the dictator and Biden “discussed a range of issues important to the bilateral relationship and other regional and global issues,” leaving much of the conversation confidential.

China’s version of the call also differed from what White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. Jean-Pierre claimed that Biden mentioned Xi’s ongoing genocide of Turkic people in occupied East Turkistan – a topic not mentioned by the White House readout of the call and a claim not corroborated by any other reporting on the conversation. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian allegedly told reporters on Friday that the claim that Biden mentioned the genocide during the call was a “lie.”

Biden has previously said publicly that he feels obligated to mention human rights concerns in conversations with Xi due to the morality of the American people, but does not personally judge Chinese communists too harshly for conducting genocide as their country has “different norms.”

“The two presidents had a candid communication and exchange on China-U.S. relations and issues of mutual interest,” Xinhua detailed. “Xi elaborated on China’s principled position on the Taiwan question. He highlighted that the historical context of the Taiwan question is crystal clear, and so are the fact and status quo that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one and the same China.”

Taiwan is a sovereign, democratic island nation off the coast of China. It has never in its history been governed by a regime headquartered in Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party nonetheless insists that it is a province of China and that its government is an illegal “separatist” organization. As China refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Taiwan as a country, Washington does not officially do so. Beijing objects to America’s informal ties to Taiwan and has escalated its violent rhetoric against the United States in light of a rumored visit to the island by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Xinhua and the Global Times both claimed that Biden emphasized support for China’s incorrect stance that Taiwan is not a country.

“He reiterated that the one-China policy of the United States has not changed and will not change, and that the United States does not support ‘Taiwan independence,'” Xinhua said of Biden.

The Global Times state propaganda outlet, citing its table of Communist Party-approved “experts,” proclaimed that Biden “desperately” sought out a call with Xi due to the poor economic climate in the United States.

“The economic pressure is a key reason why Biden desperately needs to talk with Chinese leader, and since the US side also expressed the will to cooperate and keep communication, we have confidence in the two sides keeping open frequent exchanges between senior officials,” one such expert, identified as Jin Canrong, is quoted as saying in the article.

The Global Times did not mention the fact that China’s economy is facing even more significant troubles than America’s. The Communist Party is facing a housing market collapse, is hemorrhaging foreign investment, and its previously thriving, slave-fueled industry in East Turkistan is suffering in the aftermath of the implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans exports to the United States from the region unless the importer can prove that slavery was not present in their supply chain.

The state newspaper also went out of its way to applaud Xi for his “impressive” criticism of the United States.

“Analysts said … it is impressive that the Chinese leader is being very candid to directly criticize US policy on China, including its strategy that sees China as a ‘primary rival’ and the US actions to push decoupling with China,” the Global Times claimed, “and he also reaffirmed China’s bottom line on Taiwan question. Xi warned Biden ‘those who play with fire will perish by it.'”

In reality, Xi debuted that phrase in conversations about Taiwan with Biden in November, resulting in no significant change to American or Chinese policy.

“Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire. Whoever plays with fire will get burnt,” Xi reportedly told Biden during a phone call that month.

Chinese government media also indicated that Xi threatened Biden to stop “playing with fire on the Taiwan question” during a conversation the two held in March that largely focused on the war in Ukraine, where the Communist Party has been attempting to stay in the good graces of both Russia and Ukraine, a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partner.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesmen also regularly used the violent threat in relation to anyone potentially acknowledging that Taiwan is a country.

The “fire” warning is a toned-down version of a threat of mass violence that Xi offered during a speech about pro-democracy voices in Taiwan, Hong Kong, East Turkistan, and Tibet, in October 2019.

“Anyone who attempts to split any region from China will perish, with their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder,” Xi said then during a visit to Nepal.

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