Biden hopes to avoid 'unintended conflict' over Taiwan

President Joe Biden hopes his impending conversation with Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping will help mitigate the risk of an "unintended conflict," as Beijing's desire for control over Taiwan raises the specter of war over the island democracy.

"It's about setting the terms of the competition in two key areas. One, ensuring that the competition does not lead to conflict," a senior administration official told reporters in a preview of their Monday teleconference. "We want to build common-sense guardrails to avoid miscalculation or misunderstanding."

Xi enters the meeting flush with victory after last week's gathering of Chinese Communist leaders, who issued a milestone communique praising his "tremendous political courage, and a strong sense of mission." China's emergence as an ambitious and aggressive major power has created tensions in multiple theaters and domains, such as the crackdown in Hong Kong. But "the Taiwan question," as Chinese officials call it, holds the most obvious potential for violence.

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"For us, the relationship at its core is about competition," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters when asked about Biden's virtual meeting with Xi. "It's about the most important element that there is in our bilateral relationship with the PRC and that is very clearly managing that competition, establishing the guardrails. If we are able to do that, if we are able to do that effectively and successfully, there could be no greater deliverable for the United States for the region and the rest of the world."

Chinese officials prefaced the meeting with a warning against U.S.-Taiwan cooperation that they deem illegitimate.

"It is the most important and sensitive issue in China-US relations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday, according to a transcript. "The U.S. side should ... immediately stop official exchanges and military contacts with Taiwan in any form. We also need to warn the Taiwan authorities that Taiwan independence is a dead end. Any attempt and act to solicit foreign support and resist reunification with force is doomed to fail."

Xi asserted control over Hong Kong's judiciary and electoral process, violating the treaty that secured the former British colony's semi-autonomous status shortly after identifying Beijing-Hong Kong relations as a model for the communist regime's plan to bring Taiwan under mainland Chinese control.

Chinese officials have grown more assertive regarding Taiwan, particularly in the months since the coronavirus pandemic stoked international anger toward Beijing and affinity for Taiwan. A recent surge in Chinese military sorties around the island set the stage for an unusual declaration from a senior Australian official, who underscored that a Chinese invasion of the island might provoke an international coalition to defend Taiwan.

"It would be inconceivable that we wouldn't support the U.S. in an action if the U.S. chose to take that action," Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Saturday. "[China's] been very clear about their intent to go into Taiwan, and we need to make sure that there is a high level of preparedness, a greater sense of deterrence by our capability, and that is how I think we put our country in a position of strength."

Australian officials recently struck a deal to obtain U.S. and British nuclear submarine technology, partly to enhance their ability to counter Chinese military capabilities. China's assertion of sovereignty over most of the South China Sea and bid for economic and political influence in the Pacific Islands has spurred Australian officials to fear encirclement by Chinese Communist forces.

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"On everything from technology to trade to international institutions and international waterways, we have concerns about the [People's Republic of China]'s behavior," the senior administration official said. "We are focused on writing and enforcing the rules of the road of the 21st century in a way that is favorable to our interests and our values and those of our allies and partners. And of course, we're taking steps to enforce those rules like Beijing failed to uphold them in order to defend our interests and our values."

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