During President Joe Biden’s first formal press conference on Thursday, he said China has a goal to surpass the U.S. to become the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, but said “that’s not going to happen on my watch.”
“I see stiff competition with China,” Biden said, in response to a question about whether he would maintain tariffs and sanctions on China brought by President Donald Trump.
“China has an overall goal, and I don’t criticize them for the goal, but they have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world,” Biden added. “That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States are going to continue to grow and expand.”
During his remarks about China, Biden described three strategies he would use to counter China.
“First, we’re going to invest in American workers and American science,” Biden said. He said in the 1960s, the U.S. spent about two percent of the GDP on research and investment in science, but that investment has fallen to about 0.7 percent. Biden said “I’m going to change that. We’re going to change that.”
“The second thing we’re going to do is we’re going to reestablish our alliances,” Biden continued.
Biden said meetings between the U.S. and other allied nations have already caught China’s attention. One of his recent meetings was with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan, a group of countries that with the U.S. are collectively known as “The Quad.”
“Before too long, I’m going to invite an alliance of democracies to come here to discuss the future,” Biden said. “And so we’re going to make it clear that in order to deal with these things, we are going to hold China accountable to follow the rules — to follow the rules — whether it relates to the South China Sea or the North China Sea, or their agreement made on Taiwan, or a whole range of other things.”
Biden said his third strategy would be for America to continue to assert its values in the face of Chinese human rights abuses. Biden said in his first one-on-one call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Biden said he told Xi, “Americans value the notion of freedom. America values human rights. We don’t always live up to our expectations, but it’s a values system. We are founded on that principle and as long as you and your country continues to so blatantly violate human rights, we’re going to continue, in an unrelenting way, to call to the attention of the world and make it clear — make it clear what’s happening.”
Biden went on to say “I made it clear that no American President — at least one did — but no American President ever back down from speaking out of what’s happening to the Uyghurs, what’s happening in Hong Kong, what’s happening in-country.” Biden’s comments appeared to refer to Trump and he went on to say, “The moment a President walks away from that, as the last one did, is the moment we begin to lose our legitimacy around the world.”
It’s not clear what Biden meant when he suggested Trump had walked away from holding China accountable for its human rights record. The Trump administration did sanction China over its legislative takeover of Hong Kong. The Trump administration also sanctioned Chinese officials associated with the alleged internment of millions of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province and declared the Chinese treatment of the Uyghur population “genocide.”
While Biden described his second China strategy as one to “reestablish our alliances,” the Trump administration also engaged with Indo-Pacific allies like India, Japan and Australia and promoted its own vision of an “alliance of democracies” to counter China.
The Trump administration also took efforts to block Chinese participation in U.S. 5G telecommunications infrastructure and other infrastructure. Trump also issued an executive order, which was used by the Trump-era Department of Energy, to bar China from participating in the U.S. energy grid. In one of his first moves as president, Biden put a 90-day pause on that Trump-era order used to block Chinese access to the U.S. energy grid.