President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will host a virtual summit Monday night, but it’s unclear if Biden will press Xi to be transparent about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic amid reports that his son Hunter Biden still co-owns a Chinese investment fund with state-owned entities.
White House officials didn’t mention the pandemic that’s killed more than 762,000 Americans or the apparent conflict of interest with the first son’s business interests on a preview call with reporters, stressing instead a desire to foster “responsible competition” and to uphold a “rules-based international order.”
Much of the summit will occur out of public view after an exchange of opening niceties between the leaders — limiting Biden’s vulnerability after Chinese diplomats used a March summit in Alaska to score propaganda points by accusing the US of hypocrisy on cyberattacks and human rights.
“[Biden] has told a story about how his father always would say that the only thing worse than an intended conflict is an unintended one. We know as a responsible global leader that it’s important to keep channels of communication open,” a senior US official told reporters. “That’s why President Biden initiated this meeting. We want to make clear our intentions and our priorities to avoid misunderstandings.”
The official said Biden wants “to build commonsense guardrails to avoid miscalculation or misunderstanding” to “sustain responsible competition.”
Although COVID-19 and China’s refusal to allow an independent investigation of the pandemic’s origins didn’t come up on the preview call — as scientists, diplomats and politicians continue to debate the theory that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology — the official did mention a desire to push Beijing to do more to combat global warming.
“We’ve been pushing for progress on China’s climate commitments since the beginning of the administration. And we think that we’ve seen a bit of progress from China in terms of some of its commitments, including through the discussions between Xie Zhenhua, the Special Envoy for Climate from the PRC [People’s Republic of China], and Special Envoy John Kerry,” the official said.
“We believe that much more work is needed. We think the PRC should be taking concrete action on climate because it’s an existential crisis and because that’s what responsible nations do. We think it’s in China’s interest to take bold action on climate change, and we’re going to continue to urge them to do so. And I expect President Biden will continue to press President Xi on that in their discussions.”
The official insisted that Biden “will be very direct and candid about areas where we have concerns about China’s behavior.”
“To give a few examples of what that includes … unfair economic behavior, such as China’s extraordinary state support of industry and its practice of economic coercion, its human rights practices, China’s coercive and provocative behavior with respect to Taiwan, its approaches with respect to technology and areas of strategic risk — for instance, in cyberspace, as well as others,” he said.
The official also said “we have concerns about the PRC’s behavior” on issues including “technology to trade to international institutions and international waterways.”
Biden hardly ever mentions pushing China to stop concealing early data on COVID-19. US spy agencies in August assessed that it’s “plausible” the virus leaked from the Wuhan lab. The other leading theory is that the virus emerged naturally from animals.
Last week, Biden turned and walked away after listening to a question from The Post about pressing China to be transparent on the origins of the virus.
A written statement attributed to Biden in August, released after the spy agency review, said that China should be transparent.
“The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” the statement said. “Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world. Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.”
Biden will convene the summit despite reports that his son Hunter Biden still owns a 10 percent stake in a Chinese investment firm that’s controlled by state-owned entities. The company, BHR Partners, was formed 12 days after Hunter Biden joined his father aboard Air Force Two for a 2013 trip to Beijing.
Biden said in December that members of his family would not hold any business role that conflicts with “or appears to be in conflict” with his job as president, but the White House has repeatedly said the first son is still working to “unwind” his Chinese holdings.
An attorney for Hunter Biden did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A 2017 email recovered from Hunter Biden’s laptop described a 10 percent set-aside for “the big guy” as part of a prospective deal involving a Chinese energy company. Former Hunter Biden business partner Tony Bobulinski said Joe Biden was the “big guy.”
So far, Biden has kept many of former President Donald Trump’s policies toward China, including tariffs on Chinese goods and sanctions on Chinese officials for eliminating Hong Kong’s autonomy and for mistreating Uighur Muslim minorities.
Biden, when pressed during a CNN town hall in October, said that he would order the US military to defend Taiwan from mainland China, though White House officials later were forced to clarify that statement.
Biden has spoken twice privately on the phone with Xi since he took office — in February and again in September. The most recent call lasted about 90 minutes, the White House said.