President Biden opened his bible on the U.S. relationship with China during his first formal news conference on Thursday.
Competition with China, he told reporters, goes far beyond trade, tariffs and technology prowess to fundamental differences between U.S. democracy and Chinese autocracy.
“I see stiff competition with China,” Biden said. “China has 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. That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States are going to continue to grow and expand.”
Biden plans for the U.S. to grow by investing more in technology in quantum computing, medical fields and “a whole range of things.” He said he will “make sure we invest closer to 2 percent” of GDP, up from 0.7 of GDP today.
“We’re going to make real investments,” the president added. “China is out-investing us by a longshot, because their plan is to own that future.”
His reflected at some length on his earlier insights regarding China while serving as vice president under President Obama. Biden said he met often with Xi Jinping before Xi became the current president of the communist country, a sprawling nation of 1.4 billion people with a record of human rights abuses and a strong record of technology innovation that rivals or exceeds that of the U.S. in some areas.
Biden’s words are sure to provide a guide for tech and chip companies embroiled with the changing seas of trade with China and much of Asia.
Biden started his soliloquy on China in response to a question from Justin Sink at Bloomberg who asked specifically if he will maintain tariffs on China and consider bans on imports of forced-labor products or cutting off U.S. investment or Chinese access to international payment systems.
“Well, they’re each specifically legitimate questions,” Biden said in response. “But they only touch a smidgen of what the relationship with China is really about.”
Biden took several moments to describe Xi as “very straightforward,” a man who “doesn’t have a democratic—with a small “D”—bone in his body. But he’s a smart, smart guy. He’s one of the guys, like Putin, who think that autocracy is the wave of the future and democracy can’t function in an ever-complex world.”
When Biden was elected, Xi called to congratulate him over a two-hour conversation. “We made several things clear to one another,” Biden added. “I made it clear to him again: that we’re not looking for confrontation, although we know there will be steep, steep competition…That we’ll have strong competition but insist that China play by the international rules of fair competition, fair practices, fair trade.”
To compete with China, Biden indicated to Xi that the U.S. will invest in American workers and science.
“Look around the world,” Biden said. “We’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution of enormous consequence. Will there be a middle class? How will people adjust to these significant changes in science and technology and the environment? How will they do that? And are democracies equipped—because all the people get to speak—to compete?
“It is clear, absolutely clear…that this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. If you notice, you don’t have Russia talking about communism anymore. It’s about an autocracy. Demand decisions made by a leader of a country—that’s what’s at stake here. We’ve got to prove democracy works.”
After his news conference, Biden met virtually with an alliance of 27 democracies in the European Union “to make sure we’re on the same page” with China, Russia and other autocracies. “I predict…your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded: autocracy or democracy? Because that it is what is at stake, not just with China,” Biden told reporters in advance of that meeting.
Biden also told Xi that no leader can hold his position unless they represent the values of their country. “Americans value the notion of freedom…human rights. We don’t always live up to our expectations, but it’s a values system. We are founded on that principle…”
“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…what’s happening,” Biden said he told Xi.
Biden said he also made it clear to Xi that no American president can “back down from what’s happening to the Uighurs, what’s happening in Hong Kong, what’s happening in-country.”
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