US President Joe Biden spoke to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, the first such contact between the two leaders since Biden won the election.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with then-Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013.
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with then-Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013. (Reuters Archive)

Joe Biden has held his first call as president with Xi Jinping, pressing the Chinese leader about trade and Beijing's crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong as well as other human rights concerns.

The two leaders spoke on Wednesday just hours after Biden announced plans for a Pentagon task force to review US national security strategy in China and after the new US president announced he was levying sanctions against Myanmar's military regime following this month's coup in the southeast Asian country.

A White House statement said Biden raised concerns about Beijing’s “coercive and unfair economic practices." Biden also pressed Xi on Beijing's crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses against Uighur and ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province, and its actions toward Taiwan.

READ MORE: China: Relations with US at 'new crossroads'

Indo-Pacific

Biden, who had dealt with the Chinese leader when he served as Barack Obama’s vice president, used his first three weeks in the White House to make several calls with other leaders in the Indo-Pacific region. 

He has tried to send the message that he would take a radically different approach to China than former President Donald Trump, who placed trade and economic issues above all else in the US-China relationship.

With Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga late last month, Biden underscored the US commitment to protecting the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. In his call with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Biden emphasised the need for “close cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.” And in his call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week, the president highlighted that the two nations' alliance was essential to stability in the region, the White House said.

READ MORE: US orders closure of Chinese consulate in Houston

Top aides to Biden have repeatedly heard from Asia-Pacific counterparts who had become discouraged by Trump’s frequently sharp rhetoric aimed at allies, talk of reducing troop levels in South Korea and odd interactions with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private calls.

Allies in the region have made clear they want a more purposeful and steady approach to engagements going forward, according to the official.

READ MORE: Beijing warns of retaliation as NYSE begins delisting Chinese telecom firms

Confrontation 

Confrontation between China and the US would be a disaster and the two sides should re-establish the means to avoid misjudgments, Xi said.

Xi reiterated during the call that cooperation was the only choice and that the two countries need to properly manage disputes in a constructive manner, according to an account of the conversation reported by Chinese state television.

He also said Beijing and Washington should re-establish various mechanisms for dialogue in order to understand each others' intentions and avoid misunderstandings, the report said.

Xi also told Biden that he hopes the United States will cautiously handle matters related to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang that deal with matters of China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to an account of the discussions reported by Chinese state television on Thursday.

Source: AP