Biden and Xi conduct marathon appeal amid rising tensions

Mr Biden vowed in May to use force to defend Taiwan if attacked as Ukraine has been, the third time he has said so during his brief presidency, even though he and his aides later insisted he was not changing the longstanding US policy of “strategic ambiguity” about how he would react in such a circumstance. The president’s language at the time encouraged Taiwanese and American hawks, even though he was condemned in Beijing. His language on Thursday seemed aimed at diminishing the impression that he was taking a more assertive position than past presidents.

China’s aggressive behavior internationally comes as Mr Xi faces significant problems at home ahead of a critical party congress in November at which he is expected to be confirmed for a third term. China’s ‘zero Covid’ lockdown policies have been deeply unpopular and the economy has slowed dramatically as youth unemployment rises and mortgage and debt crises plague some regions. Analysts said he wanted to show he could stand up to the United States ahead of Congress.

Ahead of Thursday’s call, Beijing issued stronger-than-usual statements about Ms Pelosi’s planned trip, hinting that China could use military force if the speaker goes ahead with his plans. The United States would “bear the consequences” if Ms Pelosi traveled to Taiwan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said this week.

The strong rhetoric was meant to deter Ms Pelosi from making the trip, but that did not mean China would use force, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “The Chinese have made it clear that they want Pelosi’s visit cancelled, but Beijing certainly doesn’t want a military conflict right now,” he said.

But the mood was “remarkably worse” than in March, when the two leaders last spoke on a call, he added.

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