Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will hold a telephone call on Thursday, according to a US official, as tensions escalate over a potential visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives.
The planned call would be only the fifth conversation between the two leaders since Mr Biden became US president 18 months ago.
Mr Biden, who ended his period in isolation on Wednesday after twice testing negative for Covid-19, and the Chinese president had been expected to discuss many contentious issues, from military challenges to technology competition. But those plans have been complicated by Ms Pelosi’s intended visit to Taiwan in August.
Ms Pelosi’s visit has not been confirmed but the Financial Times reported last week that the 82-year-old Democrat planned to travel to Taiwan in a show of support as it comes under rising pressure from China, which claims sovereignty over the island. Beijing has privately issued harsh warnings, suggesting a possible military response if Ms Pelosi proceeds with the trip.
The White House is extremely concerned that her visit could spark a crisis across the Taiwan Strait. Mr Biden has sent top officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, to explain the risks. But that has been complicated by the fact that Congress is independent and he has no formal power to block her visit.
Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, declined on Wednesday to say if he was worried about a Taiwan crisis when asked at a news conference in Sydney, where he was attending a meeting of Indo-Pacific military chiefs. But he said the US military was always prepared to support visits by politicians.
“If there’s a decision made that speaker Pelosi or anyone else is going to travel and they ask for military support, we will do what is necessary to ensure a safe conduct of their visit,” Mr Milley said. “What that results in we’ll have to wait and see . . . It’s a little bit premature right now.”
Beijing views trips by politicians to Taiwan as undermining the “one China” policy that the US has had since it normalised relations with Beijing in 1979. Under the policy, Washington recognises Beijing as the sole government of China but only acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China.
China is particularly concerned about Ms Pelosi’s visit because she is second in succession to the presidency. She would also be the most senior US lawmaker to visit Taiwan since Newt Gingrich, then the Republican speaker of the House, in 1997. China has warned that a visit by Ms Pelosi would have “consequences”.
“Biden will likely try to convince Xi that he does not support Pelosi’s trip and that this is not a veiled US effort to alter the status quo,” said Zack Cooper, an Asia expert at the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
But he said that if Ms Pelosi proceeded, it would likely spark the biggest confrontation since the so-called third crisis in 1995 and 1996 when China fired missiles into waters around Taiwan to intimidate its government and citizens.
January 6th riot
Meanwhile in domestic matters, US attorney general Merrick Garland said he would “pursue justice without fear or favour” in his decision on whether to charge former president Donald Trump with crimes related to the attack on the US Capitol last year and his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, as news reports indicate the justice department’s investigation is heating up.
The department is conducting a criminal investigation into the events surrounding and preceding the January 6th riot, an effort that Mr Garland – speaking to NBC’s Lester Holt on Tuesday – called “the most wide-ranging investigation in its history”.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that investigators have specifically questioned witnesses about Mr Trump’s involvement in schemes to overturn the vote, and received the phone records of Mr Trump’s officials and aides, including former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
The New York Times also reported that federal investigators had directly questioned witnesses about Mr Trump’s efforts, signalling an escalation.
– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022/Guardian