Joe Biden and Xi Jinping hold first talks over phone since US election

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have pledged to find common ground where they can, including on topics such as climate change. PHOTOS: AFP

WASHINGTON - Confrontation between China and the United States would be a "disaster" and the two should re-establish means to avoid misjudgments, China's President Xi Jinping told Mr Joe Biden on Thursday morning (Feb 11), in their first call since the American President took office on Jan 20.

Cooperation is the only correct choice for both parties, Mr Xi said, according to a report from state broadcaster CCTV. China-US cooperation can accomplish many great things while confrontation will definitely be a disaster for both countries and the world, he said.

Readouts from Beijing and Washington both indicated firm postures but also room for cooperation.

"President Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing's coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan," the White House said.

The two also exchanged views on countering the Covid-19 pandemic, and the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation, it added.

Practical engagement

But President Biden also "committed to pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements when it advances the interests of the American people and those of our allies".

Just hours before the long-anticipated call, Mr Biden ordered a Department of Defence (DOD) review to "provide a baseline assessment of department policies, programs and processes in regard to the challenge China poses".

Mr Ely Ratner, a special assistant to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, will lead the task force which has four months to develop recommendations for senior defence leaders.

CCTV's report of the conversation between the two leaders said President Xi told President Biden the two countries "should work together and meet each other halfway".

'Treat each other as equals'

While China and the United States will have different views on some issues the key is to respect each other, treat each other as equals, and properly manage and handle differences in a constructive manner, Mr Xi reportedly said.

But Taiwan, Hong Kong-related issues, and Xinjiang-related issues are China's internal affairs, related to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the United States should "respect China's core interests and act cautiously" he said.

In Washington, Ryan Hass, Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institute's Center for East Asia Policy Studies, tweeted: "President Biden is setting a clear tone: deal forthrightly with problems, acknowledge competitive nature of relationship, work purposefully to advance America's interests."

Earlier on Wednesday in Washington, President Biden visited the DOD where he announced the task force, which he said would draw on civilian and military experts and recommend "key priorities and decision points".

"It will require a whole government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and strong alliances and partnerships. That's how we'll meet the China challenge and ensure the American people win the competition of the future," President Biden said.

Task force

The DOD in its announcement of the task force said: "China is seeking to overturn the current rules-based structure, which has benefited all nations in the Indo-Pacific region. The United States and its allies seek to continue the free and open environment in the region. China is using all elements of national power to bend the nations to its will."

It added: "The United States is conducting freedom of navigation operations to ensure all nations can use international waterways and air routes. The US is working with allies to improve policing of national borders and exclusive economic zones to ensure sovereignty.

"Countering Chinese efforts is the focus of the task force."

After the call, Ms Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia and director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, tweeted: "President Biden sends a clear message to Xi Jinping."

"The US has a lot of concerns about Chinese policies," she said. "(Mr Biden) is committed to advancing the interests of the American people and those of our allies. Cooperation is possible where interests intersect. No room for misunderstanding."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.