President Joe Biden warned a bipartisan group of Senators Thursday that China “will eat our lunch” after speaking with Xi Jinping on Wednesday night, Reuters reported.
Biden discussed a range of issues with the Chinese leader, from “coercive and unfair” trade practices to reported human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong as well as Taiwan, Reuters reported. U.S. and Chinese leaders have not spoken in over 11 months with the last call occurring on March 27 under the Trump administration.
“They’re investing billions of dollars dealing with a whole range of issues that relate to transportation, the environment and a whole range of other things. We just have to step up,” Biden told Senators during the Thursday meeting, Reuters reported.
Biden’s hardened stance towards China signals a significant departure from comments he made in 2019 at a campaign event in Iowa where he dismissed China as a potential threat to the U.S. and its allies.
“China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” Biden reportedly said at the event. “They can’t figure out how they are going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what, they’re not competition for us.”
During the call with Biden, Xi maintained a hardline stance on allegations of human rights abuses, telling Biden these are matters of “sovereignty and territorial integrity” and the U.S. should approach them carefully, Reuters reported. Biden reportedly emphasized the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific, a region that has been a source of heightened tensions between the two countries.
Although Biden has touted his positive relationship with Xi on the campaign trail, the Biden administration has adopted a tougher stance towards China while also placing an emphasis on multilateral relations on crucial issues like climate change.
On Jan. 25 Biden signed an executive order protecting U.S. manufacturing and deploying military assets into the South China Sea, which marked the president’s first major competitive move against Beijing’s growing influence, the Daily Caller reported.
Biden’s cabinet appointees have echoed the president’s concerns towards China, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who decried China’s arrest of Hong Kong protestors in a Jan. 5 tweet.
“The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy,” Blinken tweeted.
The call was not wholly confrontational, however, as both leaders agreed conflict between the U.S. and China would be a “disaster,” the Chinese foreign ministry said, Reuters reported. Biden reportedly asked for Beijing’s cooperation on fighting COVID-19 and climate change, according to a readout of the call, Reuters reported.
“We hope the possibilities will now point toward an improvement of China-U.S. relations,” Xi said to Biden.