Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden held a long phone call in which the Beijing leader warned the US against meddling in China's dealings with Taiwan and splitting the world's two biggest economies, officials said.
During the unusually lengthy three-hour call, there was no indication of progress on trade, technology or other issues, including Beijing's opposition to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's possible visit to the island democracy, which the mainland claims as its territory.
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, Xi and Biden are looking at the possibility of meeting in person, according to a US official who declined to be identified further. 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 Xi and Biden discussed possible plans by Pelosi to visit Taiwan, which the ruling Communist Party says has no right to conduct foreign relations. But 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."
One-China principle, but which government is in charge?
The harsh language from Xi, who usually tries to appear to be above political disputes and makes blandly positive public comments, suggested that Chinese leaders might believe Washington didn't 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 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".
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 US, 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 Biden as saying Washington doesn't support independence for Taiwan.
Conflict over Pelosi visit
Coverage of the conversation in China's entirely state-controlled media on Friday was limited to repeating government statements.
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 Gingrich for saying the US 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 euros 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 Pelosi visit is more sensitive to Beijing in a year when 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.
Splitting of economies might slow innovation, increase costs
Xi, who wants to be seen as restoring China's historic role as a global leader, has promoted a more assertive policy abroad. The PLA has sent growing numbers of fighter planes and bombers to fly near Taiwan in an attempt to intimidate its democratically elected government.
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.
Xi called for cooperation on reducing the risk of economic recession, coordinating macroeconomic policies, fighting COVID-19 and "de-escalation of regional hot spots," according to the government statement.
He also warned against decoupling or separating the US and Chinese economies for strategic reasons.
Businesspeople and industry analysts have warned global industries might be split into separate markets with incompatible products due to China's pressure on its own companies to develop their own technology standards and US restrictions on Chinese access to technology that Washington sees as a security risk. This might slow innovation and increase costs, they believe.
"Attempts at decoupling or severing supply chains in defiance of underlying laws would not help boost the US economy," the statement said. "They would only make the world economy more vulnerable."