U.S. President Joe Biden held the first formal news conference of his presidency on March 25, taking questions in the East Room of the White House on a range of topics, including immigration, the Senate filibuster, and China.
Biden said he would prevent China from passing the United States to become the most powerful country in the world, vowing to invest heavily to ensure America prevails in the race between the world’s two largest economies.
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Biden said he had spent “hours upon hours” with Xi Jinping when he served as vice president under former President Barack Obama and was convinced the Chinese president believed autocracy – not democracy – held the key to the future.
The US wants competition, not confrontation
The Democratic president said he had made it clear to Xi that the United States was not looking for a confrontation, but would insist that China abide by international rules for fair competition and fair trade and respect for human rights.
“I see stiff competition with China,” Biden said. “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. That’s not going to happen on my watch, because the United States is going to continue to grow and expand.”
“We’re not looking for a confrontation, although we know there will be steep, steep competition,” he said. “This is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.”
Autocracy vs democracy
Biden targeted both Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin for embracing autocracy.
“He’s one of the guys, like Putin, who thinks that autocracy is the wave of the future, (and) democracy can’t function in an ever-complex world,” said the president. “He (Xi) doesn’t have a democratic — with a small ‘d’ — bone in his body, but he’s a smart, smart guy,” he said.
Biden’s remarks echoed those made during his presidential campaign and come days after the first high-level, in-person talks between U.S. and Chinese officials under his administration in Alaska, where combative public statements laid bare the depth of tensions between the rivals.
Regarding human rights
Biden said he would work with U.S. allies to hold China accountable for its actions on Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, its treatment of the Uighur minority, and will push Beijing to stick to international rules for fair trade.
He said he told Xi during a two-hour conversation after taking office: “As long as you and your country continue to so blatantly violate human rights, we are going to continue in an unrelenting way to call it to the attention of the world, and make it clear, make it clear, what’s happening. And he understood that.”
“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 Uighurs, what’s happening in Hong Kong, what’s happening in-country,” said Biden.
“That’s who we are. 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 who we are,” he said.
Investments in technology
The president pledged to prevent China from becoming the “wealthiest” and “leading” country in the world by leaning on allies and boosting U.S. investments in technology.
Biden plans to unveil a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal next week, said he would ensure increased U.S. investment in promising new technologies, such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology.
He said he aimed to return U.S. investment in research and technology development closer to the 2 percent of GDP invested in the 1960s from the current rate of about 0.7 percent.
“The future lies in who can, in fact, own the future as it relates to technology, quantum computing, a whole range of things, including in the medical fields,” he said.
“We are going to make real investments,” he added, noting that China is spending three times more than the United States on infrastructure.