The “deeply sensitive” issue of arms sales to Taiwan was raised during Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) first meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden in Beijing on Thursday.
As expected, the issue was near the top of the Chinese agenda and no time was lost putting it on the table.
Biden told Xi that the US intended to “meet its commitments” to Taiwan and added that there was also an “overarching intention” in Washington to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
However, senior White House officials, briefing US reporters traveling with Biden, refused to “characterize in great detail” what Xi and other Chinese officials said.
Asked whether the Chinese brought up arms sales to Taiwan, one official answered: “I will convey that they [the Chinese] underscored that this was a deeply sensitive issue in US-China relations and that they asked for the US to regard that seriously.”
A senior official said that he had found Xi to be extremely open and very engaged in back-and-forth conversations that were not at all scripted and that Xi was a very good listener and “someone who you could really have a serious and interesting dialogue with.”
Another official said that when the issue of the Taiwan Strait came up, Biden said “quite clearly that we welcomed the progress that has taken place in recent years between the two sides and he expressed his hope that this important process would continue into the future.”
The US official said that Biden’s week-long Asian trip was part of a deliberate effort to deepen US engagement and influence in the region.
A series of further meetings between Biden and Xi are planned and the Taiwan issue is almost certain to be raised again.
One of the US officials said that the meetings with Xi provided a unique opportunity to get to know and build a relationship with him and “get a deeper understanding of his views and perspectives on the issues of concern.”
Xi, China’s presumed next leader, will also concentrate the talks on the global economy, trade and currency.
A US official said that during their first meeting, the two vice-presidents talked about military-to-military ties, an issue on which Washington places enormous importance.
In the past, Beijing has broken off such ties immediately following US announcements of new arms packages for Taiwan.
US officials went out of their way to stress the “informal and relaxed” atmosphere of the talks.
“We had deep dialogue about domestic policy, about politics in both societies, and we talked about foreign policy, national security issues and the imperative of working together on economic policy,” one official said. “Although we’re at the very beginning of what will turn out to be, I think, many hours of discussion, there are already several issues that have been addressed in some detail, some of them sensitive issues.”
“They talked openly, directly, seriously and honestly,” the official said. “Their conversation was strategic. It was forward-looking and I’d venture to say that even in day one they both came away having learned a lot by virtue of candor.”
Biden raised the issue of human rights and told Xi that in order to build the relationship it was important to discuss the issue openly.
“And so there was a discussion,” a US official said.