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Biden warns Xi Jinping of consequences toward China if it continues Russian support

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden and China's President Xi Jinping spent nearly two hours on a video call Friday, their first conversation since November. As you might expect, most of it focused on Ukraine. White House press secretary Jen Psaki says that the president warned President Xi against China supporting Russia's attacks on Ukraine.

JEN PSAKI: We have that concern. The president detailed what the implications and consequences would be if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians. And obviously, that is something we will be watching and the world will be watching.

SIMON: The call came as President Biden prepares to fly to Brussels next week for emergency NATO and G-7 meetings that will focus on the Ukraine war. NPR's White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins us. Scott, thanks for being with us.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

SIMON: Two hours - a lot of time. What do we know about what they talked about?

DETROW: You know, on Ukraine, the White House has really been focused lately on the fact that it has been repeatedly warning China not to materially support Russia in this war. Most of the framing of how this conversation went focused around that message, you know, even though the White House has not really answered questions on whether it sees specific evidence right now that this is happening. The Chinese government's version of this call included phrases like, quote, "China does not want to see the situation in Ukraine come to this" and that, quote, "China stands for peace and opposes war." Of course, China is one of the few countries in the world right now that currently does have close ties with Russia - ties that Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin really deepened right before the war began when they met during the Winter Olympics. The White House did not provide a lot of specifics about what Biden said on the call, what the direct conversation was between these two leaders.

SIMON: President Biden publicly and explicitly warned Russia about the consequences of invading Ukraine. Was he quite that blunt and specific with President Xi about any consequences of supporting Russia?

DETROW: Well, we don't know. The White House says that Biden repeatedly laid out what White House officials called implications and consequences during this call. The terms came up over and over and over yesterday. We repeatedly tried to say, well, what are they? Give us some specifics. And that happened because there's such a contrast because we got so many of the specifics of what the first wave of sanctions against Russia would be. That is not happening here. The White House is being incredibly guarded about what was on the call, what these consequences would be. And here is just one example of how the vagueness almost veered into farce at times because the White House didn't really want to say anything. Here's press secretary Jen Psaki responding to a question that I asked.

PSAKI: Well, again, I'm not going to give you more details about the level of detail, but it was a detailed engagement. I'm not going to outline that more from here.

DETROW: And one more example of about how careful the White House is being about talking about this - it took more than four hours for the administration to put out a readout of this call. That's opposed to Beijing, who released its version of the conversation before the conversation even ended.

SIMON: Obviously, a lot of talk about Ukraine. Do we know if anything else came up?

DETROW: Yeah, the Chinese readout spent a lot of time on Taiwan, which is, of course, the biggest tension point between these two countries. The U.S. policy is to support Democratic leaders in Taiwan, even if it doesn't officially recognize it as a separate country. China, of course, claims Taiwan. And just before the call, a Chinese aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Strait, according to Reuters. China described this as routine, but it is a reminder of how delicate the issue is. According to the Beijing frame of the call, Xi told Biden, quote, "some people in the U.S. have sent a wrong signal to Taiwan independence forces" and says that Biden told him, quote, "the U.S. does not support Taiwan independence or intend to seek a conflict with China." The U.S. framing was different, which is probably not surprising. It was that Biden reiterated that U.S. policy on China has not changed and emphasized the United States continues to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo. And all of this matters in this moment because many people have viewed the Western response to Russia's Ukraine invasion as a possible look at how much international opposition there would be if China ever forcefully tried to impose changes on Taiwan.

SIMON: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow, thanks so much.

DETROW: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.