WASHINGTON – President Biden discussed the potential “divestiture” of TikTok during a Tuesday phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping — as Xi warned Biden against tripping a “red line” over Taiwan policy.

The sensitive topics were among the leading points in the private conversation, according to readouts from officials on both sides.

“The president reiterated our concerns about the ownership of TikTok,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at the regular White House briefing.

“He made it clear to President Xi this was not about a ‘ban’ of the application but rather our interest in divestiture so that the national security interests and the data security of the American people can be protected.”

The Chinese-owned platform is one of the most popular social media applications in the US, particularly among younger Americans, and may be forcibly pried away from owner ByteDance through legislation.

The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill last month to force ByteDance to sell TikTok within six months or face a US ban — and Biden has pledged to make it law if it clears the Senate.

“[Biden] brought it up with President Xi,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“The president has always been very clear about his concerns and he’s been very public about that: there is a real threat posed by certain technology services operating in the US that put at risk Americans’ personal information.”

Jean-Pierre said Biden’s concerns include “manipulation” of content displayed by TikTok, which the president’s re-election campaign actively uses despite his professed concerns.

In a break from most of his fellow Republicans, former President Donald Trump opposes the TikTok legislation on the grounds that a ban would increase the power of US platforms such as Facebook to censor politically sensitive content.

Xi and Biden previously met in November near San Francisco and discussed a litany of other topics Tuesday, though the precise details were not fully described in readouts.

The Chinese government’s readout said that Xi stressed that the “Taiwan question is the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations,” without elaboration.

The relatively curt description of the call by Beijing said Xi also said that “the measures by the US side to suppress China’s trade and technology development are not ‘de-risking,’ but creating risks.”

“President Xi also stated China’s position on Hong Kong-related issues, human rights, the South China Sea, and other issues,” the Chinese statement said.

Beijing is particularly sensitive to the perception of any US support for formal Taiwanese independence, and US support for the self-governing island has enraged the Chinese Communist Party in the past — with the authoritarian regime breaking off military-to-military and counternarcotics talks with Washington in protest of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August 2022 visit to Taipei.

The heads of the Chinese and American militaries held their first call in more than a year in December.

Some major topics weren’t listed in either readout at all, such as US efforts to determine the origins of COVID-19 and concern that continued risky research in China could unleash another pandemic.

Xi and Biden also discussed efforts to reduce the smuggling of fentanyl from China into the US, according to the American readout, though the precise details were unclear.

The Chinese leader pledged in November to do more to prevent the drug from reaching the US, where it has killed more than 200,000 Americans since Biden took office.

Republicans have blasted Biden for not being more aggressive with Xi on the issue of fentanyl, which is increasingly cut into non-opioid drugs including cocaine and into counterfeit prescriptions, killing unwitting users.

Ahead of the call, a US official told reporters the White House has seen China “implement some initial measures to restrict and disrupt the flow of certain precursor chemicals used to produce illicit synthetic drugs” including fentanyl, but admitted more must be done.

Biden, 81, and Xi, 70, also “reviewed and encouraged progress on key issues discussed at the [California summit], including counternarcotics cooperation, ongoing military-to-military communication, talks to address AI-related risks, and continuing efforts on climate change and people-to-people exchanges,” the US readout said.

Biden also “emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” the US side said.

“He raised concerns over the [People’s Republican of China]’s support for Russia’s defense industrial base and its impact on European and transatlantic security, and he emphasized the United States’ enduring commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Biden “also raised continued concerns about the PRC’s unfair trade policies and non-market economic practices, which harm American workers and families,” the White House said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China in coming weeks to continue discussions.

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