By Sebastian Smith

President Joe Biden has still not decided whether to end some trade tariffs on China ahead of a phone call expected this week with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, a senior official said Tuesday.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden. Photo: Adam Schultz/White House, via Flickr.

John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said the administration believes the tariffs imposed during a trade war under former president Donald Trump are not working, but that Biden has yet to settle on a next move.

“He wants a review of the tariffs that are in place to make sure that they are aligned with our strategic economic priorities, that they’re in our best national interests, and quite frankly, the best interests of the American people, but he hasn’t made a decision,” Kirby told reporters.

“I don’t have any decision to speak to with respect to tariffs by the president. He’s working this out with his team,” Kirby added.

However, the senior official made clear that Biden is not happy with the tariffs, which slapped 25 percent duties on billions of dollars of Chinese imports in retaliation for what the United States says are Beijing’s routinely unfair trade practices.

“We do believe… that the tariffs that were put in place by his predecessor were poorly designed. We believe that they’ve increased costs for American families and small businesses, as well as ranchers. And that’s, you know, without actually addressing some of China’s, China’s harmful trade practices,” Kirby said.

John Kirby
John Kirby. File photo: Carlos M. Vazquez II/US Department of Defense.

“So we thought that the previous administration’s approach to tariffs was a, was a shoddy deal.”

The call, which is expected this week but has yet to be finally scheduled, will be the fifth between Xi and Biden since the Democrat took office in 2021.

Relationship tending

Describing US-China ties as “one of the most consequential bilateral relationships in the world,” Kirby said Biden and Xi would cover “everything from the tensions over Taiwan, to the war in Ukraine, as well as how we better manage competition between our two nations, certainly in the economic sphere.”

“There’s a lot of focus on security challenges and tensions particularly in the Indo-Pacific region — with respect to Taiwan, with respect to the territorial claims in the South and East China Seas, but there’s also there’s also economic competition.”

Xi Jinping
Chinese leader Xi Jinping. File photo: GovHK.

One of the main goals of the call will be broadly what Kirby called Biden’s China “relationship tending.”

“He wants to make sure that the lines of communication with President Xi on all the issues, whether they’re issues again that we agree on or issues where we have significant difficulty with — that they can still pick up the phone and talk to one another candidly,” Kirby said.

One irritant in the relationship likely to come up is a reported plan by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Biden ally Nancy Pelosi, to visit Taiwan.

As second in line of succession to the US presidency, the speaker requires a significant security detail when she travels abroad and reports of her trip have infuriated Beijing, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan.

Kirby said he wanted to “stress the speaker has not announced any travel.”

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