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Biden tells China’s Xi to stay out of US elections

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President Joe Biden again warned Chinese President Xi Jinping against meddling in the November U.S. presidential election during the two leaders’ phone call Tuesday. The call is part of U.S. efforts to maintain “open lines of communication to responsibly manage competition and prevent unintended conflict,” the White House said.

In various engagements, the U.S. has raised its “continual reinforcement of concern” against Chinese election interference, a senior administration official told reporters in a Monday briefing previewing the call.

Biden last raised the issue in his meeting with Xi in Woodside, California, last November. Beijing has repeatedly said it has no interest in meddling in U.S. internal affairs.

“I don’t think we ever really take the Chinese at their word when they say they will or will not do something,” the senior administration official said. “It is about verifying.”

A declassified U.S. intelligence threat assessment released in February warned of Beijing’s “higher degree of sophistication in its influence activity,” including by using generative AI. The report warned of “growing efforts to actively exploit perceived U.S. societal divisions” online.

“Spamouflage, a persistent China-linked influence operation, has weaponized U.S. political, economic, and cultural wedge issues in its campaigns,” said Max Lesser, a senior analyst of Emerging Threats at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Spamouflage leverages specific issues to target Biden, Lesser told VOA. For example, a post sharing an article from Fox news covering a Pro-Palestinian protest was shared by a Spamouflage account with the added commentary “Biden’s defeat is a foregone conclusion.”

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said in a statement sent to VOA that China is “committed to the principle of non-interference” and that claims about Beijing influencing U.S. presidential elections are “completely fabricated.”

The leaders also reviewed progress on key issues discussed at the Woodside Summit, including counter-narcotics cooperation to curb fentanyl trafficking and the recently re-established military-to-military communication, addressing AI-related risks, and efforts on climate change and people-to-people exchanges, the White House said in its readout of the call.

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden walk together at Filoli Estate during their meeting in Woodside, California, Nov. 15, 2023.

FILE – Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden walk together at Filoli Estate during their meeting in Woodside, California, Nov. 15, 2023.

US-Japan-Philippines trilateral summit

The Biden-Xi call came as the White House prepares for a trilateral summit where Biden will host Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. next week.

The first-ever “minilateral” gathering is set to unveil a series of initiatives including increasing maritime cooperation to counter China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, overlapping claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Washington is concerned over the latest flare-up with China stepping up its use of water cannons against Philippine vessels to block a resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal. Since 1999, Philippine soldiers have guarded a wrecked ship left on the shoal to maintain the country’s sovereignty claims over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The goal is to make clear to Xi that the U.S. “will not stand idly by if this gray zone coercion continues to escalate and potentially leads to the loss of lives of Filipino sailors,” Gregory Polling told VOA during a Center for Strategic and International Studies briefing Tuesday. Polling directs CSIS’ Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Grey zone tactics refer to activities and actions between peace and war that fall below the threshold of armed conflict. China’s firing of water cannons is an example of a grey zone action as it falls short of triggering the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

As Taiwan prepares to inaugurate its new president next month, Biden “emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said the White House. Beijing considers the self-governed island its wayward province, and cross-strait issues have been one of the sharpest sources of tension in U.S.-China rivalry.

Chinese malicious cyber activity is another key concern. Last month, the U.S. sanctioned China-linked hackers for targeting U.S. critical infrastructure. Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company, Limited or Wuhan XRZ is a front company for China’s Ministry of State Security that has “served as cover for multiple malicious cyber operations,” the administration said.

The official highlighted continued diplomatic engagement including a visit to China by U.S. Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen in the coming days and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the coming weeks. The U.S. and China are also set to hold a dialogue on AI risk management in coming weeks.

The leaders also discussed other regional and global issues, with Biden raising concerns over Bejing’s “support for Russia’s defense industrial base and its impact on European and transatlantic security,” the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and human rights protection in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Paris Huang contributed to this report.

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