Biden vows to confront China on abuses but open to cooperation


February 06, 2021


U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the State Department in Washington on Feb. 4, 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times


By Miya Tanaka | KYODO News


WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday vowed to counter what he called China’s economic abuses and aggressive behavior by rebuilding alliances he believes his predecessor undermined, while signaling his readiness to explore areas of cooperation with the Asian giant.

Warning of China’s “growing ambitions” to rival the United States, Biden said in his first major foreign policy speech that his administration will “compete from a position of strength, by building back better at home, working with our allies and partners, renewing our role in international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority.”

“We will confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive action, to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance,” he also said, but added, “We are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so.”

The Biden administration has suggested that climate change is an issue where the United States can cooperate with China, the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide.

Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump took an increasingly confrontational stance against China toward the end of his presidency, clashing on numerous fronts including trade practices, technology, Hong Kong, Taiwan, human rights issues and control of the South China Sea.

During his speech at the State Department, Biden, who was inaugurated Jan. 20, reiterated his desire to restore the traditional U.S. role as the standard-bearer of democracy, indicating his administration will take a tough stance over the military coup in Myanmar earlier this week.

“In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” he said, demanding the military relinquish power and release the civilian government leaders it detained.

The president also announced a global posture review of U.S. forces so that the country’s military footprint will be aligned with its foreign policy priorities.

While the reassessment takes place, he said he will freeze a plan by the Trump administration to draw down U.S. troops stationed in Germany, a move that was seen as a sign of strained ties between the allies.

Biden said his administration will also step up its diplomacy to end the war in Yemen, calling it a humanitarian catastrophe.

There was no mention of North Korea during his roughly 20-minute speech.

From his first day in office, the 78-year-old former vice president under Barack Obama has been following through on his campaign pledge to revive multilateralism and rebuild alliances after four years of Trump’s unilateralist “America First” policy.

He has taken steps to bring the United States back into the Paris climate accord and ceased the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization, which Trump had criticized as China-centric.

Biden has also held a series of phone calls with leaders of countries around the world, including Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and leaders of Australia and South Korea, reaffirming the importance of alliances and agreeing to cooperate to address global challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

The president cited Japan, Australia and South Korea as among “our closest friends” on Thursday.

He also emphasized his pursuit of “a foreign policy for the middle class,” in which he explained that every action will be taken with “American working families in mind.”

Earlier in the day, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the approach meant trade policy would prioritize job creation and wage hikes in the United States.

“Our priority is not to get access for Goldman Sachs in China. Our priority is to make sure that we’re dealing with China’s trade abuses that are harming American jobs and American workers in the United States,” he said.

“So whether it’s dumping or subsidies or intellectual property theft, or the countries across the world who have engaged in problematic currency practices, our priorities in the trade space will be about the American worker,” he added.

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