President Biden began his fifth conversation with China’s Xi Jinping on Thursday amid escalating tensions between the two countries over Taiwan, but the White House refused to say whether Biden would press him on the origins of COVID-19 or fentanyl smuggling.
At Wednesday’s news briefing, The Post asked White House spokesman John Kirby about whether the president would raise the issues with his Chinese counterpart.
“On China, you just mentioned that President Biden intends to bring up South China Sea issues. I was wondering if we could also expect him to be bringing up issues regarding fentanyl exports from China and regarding the origins of COVID-19,” The Post asked Kirby.
“I think, as I said, there’s going to be a range of issues,” Kirby said. “We’ll give you a full read out after that call is over with.”
“Are those two major ones that you would expect?” The Post pressed.
“They are,” he responded.
Fentanyl smuggling largely from China has caused a surge in overdose deaths in the US, with more than 107,000 Americans dying in 2021.
At the same time, the coronavirus, which may have emerged from a lab in Wuhan, has led to 1 million deaths in the US.
Biden, struggling to find a way to curb higher prices, is also weighing whether to roll back the tariffs former President Donald Trump slapped on Chinese goods.
The US currently has a 19% tariff on goods imported from China, compared to 3% on goods imported from other countries.
Trump imposed the tariffs in retaliation for China’s unfair trade practices against US business in an effort to force Beijing to the table to negotiate better terms.
But Kirby said he expects Biden will bring up China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and its military posture toward Taiwan.
“I would fully expect that, as part of the president’s conversation, that tensions in the South China Sea will come up, as they have routinely with respect to China’s excessive maritime claims that aren’t backed up by international law, by their coercive and aggressive behavior towards — towards nations that border on the sea or are in the South China Sea. And I fully expect that that will — that will come up,” he said.