Return to

Nov. 23, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

Xi claims ignorance of Taiwan attack plans

By Bill Gertz
Those with experience dealing with Chinese Communist Party officials say the best way to know the truth about China is after the party denies it. That may be the case regarding the discussion on Taiwan between President Biden and President Xi Jinping in California last week.

According to a senior Biden administration official who was in on the four-hour talks Nov. 15 at an estate south of San Francisco, Mr. Xi denied the People’s Liberation Army is planning a major invasion of the island democracy Beijing claims as its own sovereign territory.

During what was described as a substantial exchange on Taiwan, Mr. Xi told Mr. Biden about his continuing concerns about the island democracy, calling it was the largest, potentially most dangerous issue in the tension-filled U.S.-China relationship.

Mr. Xi “laid out clearly that their preference was for peaceful reunification, but then moved immediately to conditions that the potential use of force could be utilized,” the official said in a briefing for reporters after the meeting.

The official did not disclose the conditions, but China has said in the past that a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan would trigger military action, along with the introduction or development of nuclear arms.

Mr. Biden then responded “very clearly” that the U.S. is determined to maintain peace and stability across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.

It is not known if the president told Mr. Xi the U.S. would intervene militarily if Taiwan were attacked. Mr. Biden sidestepped a question during a post-meeting press conference about his earlier statements promising such a response.

At the meeting with Mr. Xi, Mr. Biden said the U.S. believes strongly in the fragile status quo that has kept the peace between the mainland and the island since defeated Nationalist forces landed there in 1949 during a civil war.

Mr. Biden also asked Mr. Xi to “respect the electoral process in Taiwan,” reflecting U.S. concerns the Chinese government is conducting covert operations to influence the outcome of the presidential election set for January.

“President Xi responded, ‘Look, peace is all well, and good. But at some point, we need to move towards resolution more generally,’” the official said.

Mr. Xi told the president he is familiar with remarks by American military commanders that China’s military has been ordered to be ready for military action against Taiwan by 2027 or 2035, the official said, noting that Mr. Xi voiced “a slight amount of exasperation” over the reports.

“And then he basically said, ‘There are no such plans. No one has talked to me about this,’” the official said.

Mr. Biden told Mr. Xi that China’s substantial investments in a major military buildup, along with increased military activities around Taiwan, have prompted U.S. concerns about an attack. Mr. Biden added that the U.S. will stand by its commitment to maintaining peace and stability and asked China to “rethink” some of the provocative actions taken so far and move toward peaceful discussions, the official said.

“It was not as heated as other discussions,” the official said of the Taiwan portion of the summit.

The official said Mr. Xi denied there were plans to invade Taiwan during a “presentation period” when the president and Mr. Xi each made their views known on various topics.

The Chinese are involved in a “massive buildup” of forces and increased provocative military operations around Taiwan “substantially” since August 2022. These actions created new concerns about an invasion, the official said.

“I think [Mr. Xi] indicated, ‘Look I’m not preparing for massive invasion. I think he was trying to make the point generally,” the official said.

The comments by Mr. Xi do not change the American approach to preventing a conflict. “We’re still very much committed to deterrence, and we’ve taken the necessary steps to support Taiwan,” the official said.

Mr. Xi was not happy when Mr. Biden listed the steps United States has taken to back Taiwan militarily, steps that are part of a long history of U.S. security support for the island.

There was no discussion between the two leaders on what the official described as China’s “very dramatic nuclear buildup that is deeply consequential.” China has decided to discuss elements of their nuclear strategy, “but they are not interested in talking about nuclear reductions,” the official added.

The two leaders agreed to resume direct military talks that were cut off by China last year, and to hold discussions on limiting the use of artificial intelligence in nuclear command and control systems to reduce the risks of misusing nuclear arms. China also agreed to limit shipments of chemicals used in making illicit fentanyl.

Mr. Xi also complained during the meeting about what he said was “negative publicity” in the United States about the Chinese Communist Party. Later, responding to a reporter’s questions, Mr. Biden repeated his earlier characterization that Mr. Xi was a “dictator” who runs “a communist country.”

China’s Foreign Ministry denounced the remark even though the Chinese constitution states that the government is a “people’s democratic dictatorship.”

Commerce lifts sanctions on Chinese police institute
A little-noticed concession made by the Biden administration in holding the first meeting in a year between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping was the Commerce Department’s lifting of sanctions on a Chinese police institute linked to human rights violations.

On Nov. 16, the day after the two leaders met and China agreed to stem the flow of chemicals used to make fentanyl, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security took the ministry’s Institute of Forensic Science (IFS) off its blacklist of companies banned from doing business through the U.S. financial system. The institute was sanctioned in 2020 for what U.S. officials said was its role in supporting repression against minority Uyghurs in western China, a policy that the State Department has declared amounts to a genocide.

“The continued listing of the IFS on the Commerce Entity List was a barrier to achieving cooperation on stopping the trafficking of precursor chemicals,” State Department spokesperson Matt Miller told reporters. “When we evaluated the issue and looked at all the merits of de-listing the IFS, ultimately we decided that given the steps China was willing to take to cut down on precursor trafficking, it was an appropriate step.”

When the IFS was sanctioned, the Commerce Department said in a statement that the institute was engaged in “activities contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States.”

The IFS and eight other Chinese firms “are complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups” in China‘s Xinjiang region, the department said at the time.

The work of the FIS was not detailed in the Commerce sanctions announcement. However, the institute was part of a covert biological surveillance program launched by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) in 2016. The program involved a so-called “universal health examination” program that secretly gathered biological data on an estimated 53.8 million Uyghurs and other minorities in western China for use in repression.

According to U.S. officials, the program employed fake health checks on Uyghurs to take blood samples, video scans of faces, voice recordings for speech recognition and fingerprints.

The program was first disclosed in 2019 by The New York Times. It revealed that an American company, Thermo Fisher Scientific, worked with the IFS, providing equipment used to analyze DNA samples.

Human rights activists questioned the decision amid concerns the administration may be weakening its pressure on China over its human rights record.

“I acknowledge the pressing issue of the fentanyl trade, which poses a threat to Americans and is a matter of grave concern. However, it’s crucial to emphasize that the ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs is a matter of bipartisan concern, as well,” Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur human rights lawyer, told the Voice of America.

Salih Hudayar, a Uyghur and leader of the East Turkistan National Movement, also “strongly condemned” the Biden administration‘s move.

The action “flagrantly ignores the systematic genocide” against Uyghur, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan,” Mr. Hudayar said.

Defense turkey day deliveries
Every year the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which supplies food and other goods to the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops around the world, sends special shipments for overseas turkey dinners.

This season the DLA is shipping 360,000 pounds of food set to arrive by Thursday for the away-from-home holiday, according to a statement from the agency.

“The comfort of having a holiday meal when you’re away from your family is very important to all of our servicemen and women,” said Robin Whaley, DLA troop support subsistence division chief for customer operations. “And I am extremely proud of my team for working so diligently to make that happen.”

For Thanksgiving, DLA is sending 28,945 whole turkeys, 82,592 pounds of roasted turkeys, 145,760 pounds of beef and 70,957 pounds of ham.

In addition to that food, 40,534 pounds of shrimp, 5,007 pounds of sweet potatoes, 46,464 pies and cakes and 7,407 cans of eggnog were shipped.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

  • Return to