White House holds its cards close about Biden's call with Xi

Are sanctions against China on the table?

The Biden administration provided few details about President Biden's nearly two-hour video call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday following the talks, leaving more questions than answers about where things stand between the two nations amid rising tensions over China's cozy relationship with Russia.

Biden Xi

U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Roosevelt Room of the White House Nov. 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The Biden administration said publicly leading up to the call that China would face "consequences" if it extends a lifeline to the Kremlin, but it has been careful not to utter the word "sanctions" or describe what those consequences might be.

Following the call, the White House remained mum on whether sanctions could be on the table for China if Beijing directly helps Russia in its assault on Ukraine, or not.


Call readouts tend to be brief and include veiled language, but the Biden administration is holding its cards close so far about how the discussion went between the leaders of the world's two largest economies.

Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves as he witnesses the ground-breaking ceremony of a bilateral nuclear energy cooperation project via video link with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin from Beijing, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Huang Jingwen/Xinhua via AP / AP Newsroom)

Shortly after the conclusion of the call between the two presidents, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that Xi relayed to Biden that "the Ukraine crisis is something we don't want to see," and that "relevant events cannot go to the point of confrontation."

Beijing also said Xi reiterated that "conflict and confrontation are not in anyone's interest," during his sit-down with the U.S. president.


As the world continued to wait more than three hours for the Biden administration's description of the discussion, China's foreign affairs ministry issued a lengthier readout warning against the global impact of further sanctions in general, without mentioning any countries.

"Sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions would only make the people suffer," the statement read. "If further escalated, they could trigger serious crises in global economy and trade, finance, energy, food, and industrial and supply chains, crippling the already languishing world economy and causing irrevocable losses."

Jen Psaki

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a press briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 17, 2022. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The White House readout states that Biden described to Xi "the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians," stopping short of saying what those consequences would be, or whether it would be China that faces them.


When asked directly about whether Biden threatened China with sanctions during the call, a senior administration official told reporters that the president "made clear the implication and consequences of China providing material support — if China were to provide material support — to Russia as it prosecutes its brutal war in Ukraine, not just for China's relationship with the United States but for the wider world."