Biden lays out 'prescription' for U.S.-China relations in first call with Xi Jinping since taking office
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President Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time Wednesday night since taking office, outlining his administration’s “core concerns” with China’s “practices, aggressive activities and abuses,” signaling a “clear and consistent subscription to American values,” while discussing areas in which the administration believes it could be in the United States’ national interest to work with Beijing, senior administration officials said.
In a statement Wednesday night, the White House said Biden “shared his greetings and well wishes with the Chinese people on the occasion of Lunar New Year.”
“President Biden affirmed his priorities of protecting the American people’s security, prosperity, health, and way of life, and preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the White House said. “President Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan.”
The White House said Biden and Xi “also exchanged views on countering the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation.”
“President Biden committed to pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements when it advances the interests of the American people and those of our allies,” the White House said.
Senior administration officials before the call Wednesday night said that Biden would lay down the “range of concerns” he has with China’s actions and policies while ensuring that the two leaders keep “an open line of communication.”
One senior administration official said Biden approached the call with Xi Wednesday night “hard-headed, practical, clear-eyed, and rooted in a deep familiarity with his counterpart on the other end of the line.”
Another official said that the U.S. is being “very careful in our initial interactions with China,” and that the administration is “trying to be clear where our priorities are.”
The president’s “prescription” for U.S.-China relations, according to administration officials, is to strengthen U.S. economic foundation at home and make investments.
“We can get everything else right in our China, Asia policy, but if we get that wrong, we are not going to prevail in this competition, and in general, we are not going to prevail in our foreign policy,” an administration official said. “This is a core part of our China strategy, and we believe we are off to a very strong start on this.”
Last week, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that a “priority” of the Biden administration is “dealing with China’s trade abuses” that harm American workers. Sullivan said the Biden administration’s national security strategy will allow the United States to “compete more effectively” with China and said the national security team is focused on “creating jobs and raising wages here in the United States.”
But officials on Wednesday also said the Biden Administration will focus on rebuilding alliances and partnerships “not out of nostalgia,” but for the purpose of holding China “accountable for its abuses.”
“We are engaged deeply at the presidential level and at every level below that with European partners on issues of trade and security, and there is a lot more work to do on this front,” the official said.
Senior administration officials also said Wednesday that an “immediate” focus is on technology— an area they say they have already started working with Republicans on—a move they say is “required in key industries of the future,” referring to supply chain issues, semiconductors, artificial intelligence, biotech, clean energy and more.
Intelligence officials have told Fox News that China exploits the U.S. government and industry supply chains by using trusted suppliers and vendors against the U.S.
As for trade, officials said that they have “not taken any precipitous actions,” and have maintained Trump-era tariffs, but they maintained that it is “not because we believe the trade war was successful, but because we believe we have to very carefully, in consultation with allies and partners, in consultation with Congress, work through the leverage we have on the economic front and move out with a sharper, and more effective trade strategy toward China.”
BIDEN ‘PRIORITY IS DEALING WITH CHINA’S TRADE ABUSES’ THAT HARM AMERICAN WORKERS, SULLIVAN SAYS
Officials said that the Biden Administration is keeping the tariffs put in place under the Trump administration while they conduct “an intense consultation and review.”
“We are keeping them in place until we are ready to roll out an affirmative trade strategy built on the proposition that we are better off executing jointly with allies rather than by ourselves,” the official said. “That is going to take some time.”
Officials rejected suggestions that they were engaging in a “continuation” of Trump-era policies, saying that “there will be changes to trade policy toward China” which will “unfold” over time.
“We need a substantially different strategy toward China, but one that does point in the direction of intense strategic competition,” the official said. “That is the strategy that the Biden Administration will pursue.”
Officials said that in order to “effectively prevail” in competition with China, the U.S. needs to “compete from a position of strength.”
“This is something that from our perspective is a sustainable strategy that will play out, not over the course of days or weeks or even months, it will play out over the course of years,” one official said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t urgency. There is urgency and we are acting urgently, but also means that we need to stick with this and we need to play the long game, and in playing the long game, we need to be making these investments in these foundational components of the strategy now—effectively, comprehensively, decisively, and in a way where we are gathering the additional sources of strength we need to be able to prevail over time.”
Since taking office just three weeks ago, Biden officials have reviewed the Trump administration’s policies with regard to China and said they “found merit in the basic proposition,” which was “an intense strategic competition with China” and the need for the U.S. to “engage in that vigorously and systematically” across the government.
But officials said that they found “deep problems with the way in which the Trump administration went about that competition.”
“Our diagnosis was that the Trump strategy depleted core American sources of strength that put us in a weaker position with which to carry on that competition,” one senior administration official said, saying that, under the Trump administration, there was a “weakening of our political and economic model at home and a weakening of our alliances,” as well as a “lack of clarity and consistency” around values “that have long been the core part of American foreign policy.”
Meanwhile, senior administration officials stressed the “need for a clear and consistent subscription to American values, universal values of human rights, human dignity, democracy, and here we have spoken out with clarity on our commitments.”
One senior administration official pointed to the military coup in Burma, saying that is the “first test” the administration has had, noting that they have responded “swiftly, decisively, and in concert with other countries.”
The president on Wednesday approved an executive order to “immediately sanction” military leaders who directed the coup in Burma, calling on them to “immediately release” democratic leaders and activists.
The president also said the U.S. government was now taking steps to prevent those military generals from having access to Burmese government funds held by the U.S. and will impose “strong export controls” while freezing U.S. assets that benefit the Burmese government.
Biden said, though, that the U.S. would continue its support for health care, civil society groups and other areas that “benefit the people of Burma directly.”
But as for China, a senior administration official said that there has been a “sense of change” in its pattern of behavior that is causing “concern” among partners like India, Australia, and Korea—some of those concerns involving sanctions, “unprecedented economic attacks,” and increased activities of the Chinese military in the South China Sea.
The official added that some in Asia are concerned that the United States “is not going to play its traditional role.”
“We have been the supporter, and in many respects, the architect, of the operating system of Asia,” the official said, pointing to treaties, support for trade, freedom of navigation, and efforts toward peaceful resolution of disputes, calling it “complex,” but “effective period of accumulation of wealth and pulling people out of poverty in the history of mankind.”
“It is not surprising that China has sought to undermine elements of that. Rising powers do that,” the official said. “They want to redesign the system in ways that are beneficial to it.”
The official said that Asian allies and partners signaled that the “most worrisome blows to the system have come from the U.S.”
The official pointed to the Trump administration, saying that allies have taken issue with “unpredictability when it comes to every element of diplomacy, kind of weird interactions with North Korea.”
“What Asian friends and others want is, first and foremost, a domestic recovery and a vigilance and purposeful approach and a steadiness in terms of how we engage going forward,” the official said.
The official added, though, that the United States is in a position where “if we can get through the next six to eight months, we will be able to surge forward and continue to play a strong role in the Asia Pacific and also find areas that are consequential and important that we can work with China.”
As for working with China, Biden Administration officials said that there are areas in “mutual common interest,” including on nuclear proliferation and climate.
Meanwhile, Fox News reported earlier this week that Secretary of State Tony Blinken and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan believe that China poses “the greatest long-term national security threat to the United States.”
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The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told Fox News that he had met with both Blinken and Sullivan, who signaled that sentiment.
“While we’re not able to read out individual meetings, he regularly discusses Biden administration national security priorities in these conversations, certainly including dealing with the long-term strategic challenge posed by China in coordination with our allies and partners,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne told Fox News.
“Our priority is not to get access for Goldman Sachs in China,” Sullivan said. “Our priority is dealing with China’s trade abuses harming American workers in the United States.”
National security and intelligence officials from the Biden administration, and the Trump administration before leaving office, have pointed to a number of threats China poses to the U.S. — including espionage, intellectual property theft, and malign foreign influence.
During her confirmation hearing, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines also committed to focusing on providing intelligence to support efforts to “out-compete China.”
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