The United States vowed Wednesday to support Taiwan in hopes of preventing a Chinese invasion, standing firm ahead of long-awaited talks between leaders Joe Biden and Xi Jinping even as the powers reached a surprise agreement on climate.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the two presidents, who have not met in person since Biden's election, will hold virtual talks "soon" amid reports the planned meeting will take place as soon as next week.
Tensions have soared between the world's two largest economies, in particular over Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy claimed by China which last month made a record number of air incursions near the island.
"We will make sure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself because the purpose here is never to get to that point where anyone is actually trying to disrupt the status quo by force," Blinken told an event hosted by The New York Times.
He declined to go beyond the longstanding US ambiguity on whether Washington would militarily defend Taiwan from an invasion.
The Taiwan Relations Act, passed by Congress in 1979 when the United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing, requires Washington to provide weapons to Taiwan for its self-defense.
Blinken said that providing Taiwan "means to defend itself" amounted to "the best deterrent against any very, very, very unfortunate action that might be contemplated by China."
The US government is careful not to show it recognizes Taiwan but the island enjoys broad, bipartisan support in Congress, with a group of lawmakers visiting this week.
China voiced anger Wednesday over the trip by members of Congress, who flew to the island in a military jet, a step that the Pentagon said was customary.
"Colluding with Taiwan independence forces is a dangerous game and playing with fire will result in burning themselves," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press briefing in Beijing.
Biden had hoped to meet Xi at a recent Group of 20 summit in Rome but the Chinese leader has not traveled since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and instead agreed to virtual talks by the end of the year.
- Areas of cooperation -
US views have hardened on China as Xi takes an increasingly assertive tone at home and abroad.
But China on Wednesday said it had reached an understanding with the United States at a summit in Glasgow on climate change, a key area on which the Biden administration sees the potential for cooperation.
Xi also offered a conciliatory tone in a letter read by China's ambassador, Qin Gang, to a gala dinner on Tuesday evening in New York.
"Right now, China-US relations are at a critical historical juncture. Both countries will gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation," Xi said, according to an embassy statement.
"China stands ready to work with the United States to enhance exchanges and cooperation across the board, jointly address regional and international issues as well as global challenges and, in the meantime, properly manage differences."
Biden has largely kept the tougher approach on China of his predecessor Donald Trump, with both administrations considering a rising China to be the top challenge of the 21st century.
But Biden, who as vice president met extensively with Xi, has also indicated he will take a more diplomatic tone and prioritize working with allies on concerns about China.