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U.S.-China News Brief
May 20, 2022

Biden Administration and Asia

On May 19, President Biden departed for his first presidential trip to Asia. He is currently in South Korea (ROK) and will then continue on to Japan. While in Japan, Biden will also participate in a Quad meeting, which consists of the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia. This trip is aimed at demonstrating the Biden administration’s continued commitment to the Asia Pacific region and allies, even with the current focus on Ukraine.

Topics likely to be discussed during the trip include potential regional military flashpoints, North Korea, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), technology, investment, and climate change. During a tour of the Samsung Campus, Biden emphasized the importance of the U.S.-ROK trade relationship and urged Congress to pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act.

Many analysts suggest this trip serves as a warning to China that Asia remains a U.S. priority. When asked during a May 18 press conference how much of the trip will be aimed at sending a message to China, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded:

“The message we’re trying to send on this trip is a message of an affirmative vision of what the world can look like if the democracies and open societies of the world stand together to shape the rules of the road, to define the security architecture of the region, to reinforce strong, powerful, historic alliances….it is not a negative message, and it’s not targeted at any one country.”

On May 18, Jake Sullivan spoke with Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, over the phone. They previously met in Rome on May 14. They discussed North Korea, nonproliferation, and other security concerns. Multiple security reports suggest North Korea is likely planning a nuclear test to coincide with Biden’s Asia trip.

On May 19, aboard Air Force One, Sullivan told reporters, “I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the coming weeks, President Biden and President Xi speak again.”

As another sign of Biden’s Asia focus, a two-day U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit took place in Washington, DC from May 12-13. Biden pledged $150 million in aide to the Southeast Asian nations.

[Sullivan’s May 20 Press Briefing]


The official White House statement on Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi’s May 18 phone call was brief. The Chinese statement was much longer and focused heavily on Taiwan, which had not been mentioned in the White House version.

According to the Xinhua statement, Yang told Sullivan that “the Taiwan question is the most important, sensitive and core question in China-U.S. relations” and warned, “if the U.S. side persists in playing the ‘Taiwan card’ and goes further down the wrong path, it will surely put the situation in serious jeopardy.” Other reports used the term “dangerous situations” instead.

When asked about this in a press conference, Sullivan said, “I did not see the specific phraseology of ‘dangerous,’ but…there’s not, I don’t think, anything particularly new in that statement.” He continued, “We are concerned about peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and the ratcheting up of tensions. And we believe that China is contributing to the ratcheting up of those tensions through provocative military activities around Taiwan and around the Strait. But we’ve been equally clear that our policy towards Taiwan has not changed.”

A recent update to the U.S. Department of State website section on U.S. relations with Taiwan also led to backlash from China. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the website’s removal of explicit phrasing rejecting Taiwan independence “a trick to obscure and hollow out the one-China principle” and “political manipulation.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded that the changes were part of regular updates and that the “underlying policy has not changed.”

Additional News

Starting May 20, restrictions on American travelers entering China have eased. They will no longer be required to take an antibody test seven days before flying, but will still need to take one 48 and 24 hours ahead of the flight and an antigen test just before boarding.

During a May 18 press conference, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen criticized some of the Trump administrations China tariffs and discussed the benefits of lifting some in order to help ease inflation. However, no official decision on tariffs has been announced and there are reports of disagreement within the Biden administration on the best approach.

Yellen also urged for cooperation between the U.S. and EU regarding China, saying, “We have a common interest in incentivizing China to refrain from economic practices that have disadvantaged all of us.”