Chinese President Xi Jinping snubbed President Biden’s request last week for an in-person summit to smooth over relations that were soured by Chinese human rights abuses and secrecy about the origins of COVID-19, according to a new report.
Biden told Xi on Thursday during a 90-minute call that he wanted to have the meeting to achieve better relations, but Xi “did not take him up on the offer and instead insisted Washington adopt a less strident tone towards Beijing,” Financial Times reports.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday declined to say at her daily press briefing if Biden pressed Xi during the call for Chinese transparency on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic after the US intelligence community last month found it was “plausible” that the virus leaked from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The snub was reported the same day as shocking details were published from a book by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, who wrote that the highest-ranking US military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, made secret calls to his Chinese counterpart in the final months of the Trump administration.
“If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” Milley allegedly told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army on Oct. 30, which critics called a stunning move that undermines civilian control of the US military.
US-China relations were tense for much of the Trump administration — even before the COVID-19 pandemic — as then-President Donald Trump imposing tariffs on Chinese goods in an effort to force trade reforms.
The Trump administration last year sanctioned Chinese officials for eliminating Hong Kong’s political autonomy and for the mass-detention of Uyghur Muslims.
Trump also withdrew from the World Health Organization, saying it credulously accepted false Chinese data about the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, allowing the virus to spread. This year, Biden rejoined the WHO without insisting on reforms.
Trump claimed during the presidential campaign last year that China would “own” the US if Biden won, in part because of his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China.
The first son reportedly still owns 10 percent of an investment fund controlled by Chinese state-owned entities. The fund was formed 12 days after Hunter Biden joined his father aboard Air Force Two for a December 2013 trip to Beijing.
A 2017 email recovered from a hard drive formerly belonging to Hunter Biden described a 10 percent set-aside for “the big guy” as part of a prospective deal involving a Chinese energy company. That deal did not materialize, but former Hunter Biden business partner Tony Bobulinski identified the elder Biden as the “big guy.”