Biden expects to speak with China's Xi within next 10 days

US President Joe Biden (left) last spoke to Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in March. PHOTOS: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Joe Biden says he expects to speak to Chinese leader Xi Jinping "within the next 10 days," as the US considers whether lifting some tariffs on Chinese imports would help stem rampant inflation.  

Already tense relations between the two largest economies have deteriorated over China’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

“I think I’ll be talking to President Xi within the next 10 days,” Mr Biden said on Wednesday (July 20), speaking to reporters after a trip to Massachusetts to discuss his climate agenda. “I expect to.”

An administration official downplayed the role tariffs will play in the discussion, which the official described as a potential call.

The call would be about a range of bilateral, regional and global issues and not connected to the tariff process, the official said.

The official asked not to be identified because the call has not been scheduled.  

Mr Biden demurred when asked what he’d say to Mr Xi about tariffs. “I’ll tell him to have a good day,” he said.  

The talks come amid a range of disputes between the countries, including tariffs, Taiwan, as well as China’s trading and military relationship with Russia.

The two presidents last spoke in March.

There’s no call to announce or confirm right now, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council said after Mr Biden’s remarks.  

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that he had no information to offer on any call between the two leaders.

Mr Biden was also asked about the reported possibility of a trip by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a top figure in his party, to Taiwan.

“The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now but I don’t know what the status of it is,” Mr Biden replied.  

Mr Biden has been expected to announce shortly his decision on whether to scrap some of former President Donald Trump’s tariffs.

In meetings with his economic team over the last several months, officials have debated whether the removal of the duties would help fight record inflation in the US or would leave Biden vulnerable to attacks from Republicans as well as organised labour.

The administration is concerned that broad-based tariff reductions would not lead to savings being passed on to consumers, one official familiar with the deliberations said.  

Mr Trump imposed tariffs on more than US$300 billion (S$417.81 billion) in Chinese imports.

But Mr Biden’s administration is trying desperately to curb fast-rising US prices ahead of November’s midterm elections.  

Mr Trump used section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to hit China with the duties starting in July 2018 after an investigation concluded China stole intellectual property from American companies and forced them to transfer technology.  

The tariffs covered goods including industrial inputs such as microchips and chemicals, and consumer merchandise such as apparel and furniture.

While there’s been no direct indication of which duties may be removed, senior administration officials have said reducing tariffs on household items could help ease consumer inflation, which accelerated at the fastest pace since 1981 in June  from a year earlier.

Still, ending tariffs on merchandise like bicycles and clothing won’t help Americans where inflation hurts most – food, fuel and housing.  

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