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Biden and Xi Set to Discuss Taiwan Tensions

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s travel plans make today’s phone call far more than a catch-up.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping participate in a virtual meeting.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping participate in a virtual meeting.
U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Nov. 15, 2021. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at today’s Biden-Xi phone call, a potential U.S.-Russia prisoner swap, and Iraq’s political turmoil.

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Biden and Xi to Talk Taiwan

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at today’s Biden-Xi phone call, a potential U.S.-Russia prisoner swap, and Iraq’s political turmoil.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Biden and Xi to Talk Taiwan

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, today for the fifth time since taking office at a time when tensions have ratcheted up once again over Taiwan.

Pelosi’s trip. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plans to visit the island—which China claims as its own territory—has been met with both public and private admonitions from Chinese officials. So great is the potential for missteps, the U.S. military is reportedly preparing multiple scenarios to cover potential security risks that go with the trip.

Pelosi has shown no signs of scrapping the trip (which, considering the precarious position of the Democratic Party ahead of the November midterm elections, could be her last as speaker).

On the contrary, she’s begun extending invitations to other lawmakers to join her. Rep. Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been asked to come, as has Rep. Michael McCaul, the most senior Republican on the committee. (McCaul has already declined, citing prior engagements.)

Although Biden has not publicly remarked on whether Pelosi should travel, he has hardly been circumspect on the issue of Taiwan. In May, he said the United States would defend the island if it came under attack from the Chinese military in remarks that received the now customary walking back from U.S. national security officials.

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund, said the timing of Pelosi’s Taiwan trip particularly risks a Chinese response: Nationalistic sentiment will be higher in August, when China celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, as will party politics, as senior Chinese officials make their annual pilgrimage to the resort town of Beidaihe, China. It’s all part of a lead-up to the 20th Party Congress in October, where Xi is expected to be named to a third term.

“Theres still jockeying for various personnel selections, and Xi Jinping cannot be seen as weak on an issue like Taiwan,” Glaser said.

Writing in Foreign Policy on Tuesday, Mike Chinoy questioned the merits of a trip that seems “very much symbolism over substance.”

And in Wednesday’s China Brief, FP’s James Palmer highlighted Pelosi’s trip from the perspective of Beijing, where officials and media nurse a strong dislike for the House speaker.

Talking business. As well as geopolitics, Biden and Xi are likely to discuss economic competition, including whether to end some Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods. On Tuesday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby described the 2020 U.S.-China agreement as “a shoddy deal,” but Biden is still undecided on what to do instead. The U.S. president is in the process of “working this out with his team,” Kirby said.

It also comes as U.S. lawmakers are trying to take a leaf out of China’s book and roll out state support for key industries. The CHIPS Act, which was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, plans to invest $54 billion in U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and research. Its supporters say it will help reduce U.S. reliance on China as well as boost U.S. competitiveness in a strategically important area of the global economy.

Climate cooperation. Climate change policy, one of the bright spots of cooperation between the countries, is also on the agenda, but how much Biden can bring to the table is questionable considering his signature climate bills have so far failed in Congress.

That may be about to change, however, as late last night, Sen. Joe Manchin seemed set to reverse his opposition to climate spending and said he would back $369 billion of climate and energy funding as part of the freshly minted Inflation Reduction Act.

The two sides have maintained high-level engagement on the subject: Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu visited Washington this month for talks with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Environmental Protection Agency chief Janet McCabe, and California Gob. Gavin Newsom. Huang’s visit made him the most senior Chinese official to visit the U.S. capital since Biden became president.

What to watch for. Glaser listed some positive developments to look out for once both sides publish their readouts, including progress on risk reduction efforts between the two countries, statements from both sides about wishing to avoid a military crisis, and any movement on strategic stability talks—which have so far remained stagnant.

Although Glaser doesn’t expect today’s call to solve Taiwans anxieties in one go, it might reignite efforts to calm tensions and reduce the chances of U.S.-China military conflict. “There seems to be a lack of appreciation for how potentially dangerous this is,” Glaser said. “I hope this is a real wake-up call.”


What We’re Following Today

Iraq’s parliament protests. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has called for calm after supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr stormed parliament on Wednesday and voiced their strong opposition to Mohammed al-Sudani, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework’s nominee for prime minister. The action is the latest twist in Iraq’s tale of political turmoil following its October 2021 election, in which Sadr’s movement won the most seats. The parliament has since been unable to settle on a prime minister, prompting Sadr’s supporters to resign from parliament en masse last month.

SCO foreign ministers meet. Foreign ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) (consisting of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan) gather today in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent for a two-day meeting. As Lynne O’Donnell wrote in Foreign Policy on Tuesday, the meeting comes as Tashkent wraps up a three-day conference on one of the region’s main concerns: the rebirth of Afghanistan as a terrorist haven.


Keep an Eye On

The war in Ukraine. Russia is carrying out a “massive redeployment” of troops to the south of Ukraine, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday, warning that the shift appeared to be a change in tactics. The maneuvers come as Ukrainian attacks on the Russian-held city of Kherson have intensified in recent days, and yesterday, Ukrainian forces struck a key bridge near the city that has been used to resupply Russian forces via Crimea.

A U.S.-Russia deal? U.S. officials have reportedly offered Russia a deal to secure the release of U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner from Russian custody. Although the terms of the deal have not been disclosed, it is likely that Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout will be included in any exchange. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, would discuss the deal in person. It would be the first time the two have officially interacted since the invasion of Ukraine.


Odds and Ends

A marauding troop of monkeys has begun terrorizing the Japanese city of Yamaguchi, and nobody seems to know why. The monkeys have reportedly targeted young children and older adults but have yet to cause serious injuries.

“They are so smart, and they tend to sneak up and attack from behind, often grabbing at your legs,” city official Masato Saito said Wednesday.

A team has been hired to capture the monkeys using tranquilizer guns after attempts to trap them with food were unsuccessful.

“I have never seen anything like this my entire life,” Saito said.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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