Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned his US counterpart Joe Biden against meddling in China’s dealings with Taiwan.
The two leaders spoke during a phone call that gave no indication of progress on trade, technology or other sore points between the two countries, including Beijing’s opposition to the US house speaker’s possible visit to Taiwan, which the mainland claims as its own territory.
Mr Xi also warned against splitting the world’s two biggest economies, according to a Chinese government summary of the unusually lengthy three-hour call between the leaders.
Businesspeople and economists warn such a change, brought on by Chinese industrial policy and US curbs on technology exports, might hurt the global economy by slowing innovation and increasing costs.
Meanwhile, Mr Xi and Mr Biden are looking at the possibility of meeting in person, according to a US official.
Mr Xi has been invited to Indonesia in November for a meeting of the Group of 20 major economies, making it a potential location for a face-to-face meeting.
The Chinese government gave no indication Mr Xi and Mr Biden discussed possible plans by US house speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit Taiwan, which the ruling Communist Party says has no right to conduct foreign relations.
But Mr Xi rejected “interference by external forces” that might encourage Taiwan to try to make its decades-old de facto independence permanent.
“Resolutely safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity is the firm will of the
more than 1.4 billion Chinese people,” said the statement. “Those who play with fire will perish by it.”
The tough language from Mr Xi, who usually tries to appear to be above political disputes and makes blandly positive public comments, suggested Chinese leaders might believe Washington did not understand the seriousness of previous warnings about Taiwan.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 following a civil war that ended with a Communist victory on the mainland.
They have no official relations but are linked by billions of dollars of trade and investment. Both sides say they are one country but disagree over which government is entitled to national leadership.
A Chinese ministry of defence spokesman said ahead of Thursday’s call that Washington “must not arrange for Pelosi to visit Taiwan”.
He said the ruling party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, would take “strong measures to thwart any external interference”.
Mr Xi called on the United States to “honour the one-China principle,” the statement said, referring to Beijing’s position that the mainland and Taiwan are one country.
The United States, by contrast, has a “one-China policy” that says Washington takes no position on the question but wants to see it resolved peacefully.
“Both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one and the same China,” the statement said.
The statement cited Mr Biden as saying the United States does not support independence for Taiwan.
Coverage of the conversation in China’s entirely state-controlled media on Friday was limited to repeating government statements.
Ms Pelosi has yet to confirm whether she will go to Taiwan, but if she does, the Democrat from California would be the highest-ranking elected American official to visit since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Beijing criticised Mr Gingrich for saying the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack but did little else in response to his three-hour visit to the island.
Since then, China’s position on Taiwan has hardened as the mainland economy grew to become second-largest after the United States.
The ruling party poured hundreds of billions of dollars into developing fighter jets and other high-tech weapons including “carrier killer” missiles that are thought to be intended to block the US Navy from helping to defend the island.
The conflict over a possible Ms Pelosi visit is more sensitive to Beijing in a year when Mr Xi, who took power in 2012, is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as party leader.
Mr Xi, who wants to be seen as restoring China’s rightful historic role as a global leader, has promoted a more assertive policy abroad.
The United States has no official relations with Taiwan but has extensive commercial ties and informal political connections. Washington is obliged by federal law to see that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.