Biden calls on Xi Jinping to end ‘human rights abuses in Xinjiang’ in first China call

Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke to Chinese president XI Jinping for the time since taking office, with the leaders discussing a range of issues including Beijing’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, its crackdown in Hong Kong and trade practices.

In the first direct conversation between the leaders of the two countries since March last year, Mr Biden touched upon potential areas of cooperation such as the coronavirus pandemic, preventing weapons proliferation and climate change.

But according to a read-out of the call from the American side, Mr Biden stressed that it was a US priority is to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The US president used the call to press “fundamental concerns” over the persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority in China’s western Xinjiang region, as well as mentioning Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“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 in a statement.

The conversation between the presidents of the world’s two largest economies was the first since Mr Xi spoke with former president Donald Trump last March, after which came a dramatic deterioration in diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing over trade, technology, territorial claims in the South China Sea and China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the conversation, Mr Biden took to Twitter to say he talked to the Chinese leader to wish him well on the occasion of Chinese New Year and also shared concerns about Beijing’s economic practices, human rights abuses, and coercion of Taiwan.

“I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people,” Mr Biden added.

The Biden administration is planning to add new “targeted restrictions” on some technology exports to China, a senior official of the administration told Reuters. The official said that there would be no changes in the restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on trade tariffs with China.

The relations between the two countries nosedived after Donald Trump administration imposed steep tariffs on Chinese goods and barred Chinese telecom companies over alleged security threats, starting a trade war between the two.

Mr Biden spoke to China’s president just hours after he announced plans to introduce a new Pentagon task force to review the US national security strategy on China.

“Today I was briefed on a new DoD (Department of Defense)-wide China task force that Secretary Austin is standing up to look at our strategy and operational concepts, technology and force posture and so much more,” the president said on a visit to the Pentagon, his first since he was inaugurated.

Mr Biden had worked closely with China when he served as Barack Obama’s vice president and played host to then-Chinese vice president Mr Xi during his visit to the US in 2012. He used the visit to raise concerns about intellectual property theft by Beijing and human rights abuses.

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