China is threatening to outcompete the United States on infrastructure and public transport, US President Joe Biden said on Thursday, as he sought support from lawmakers for a spending bill for US upgrades.
Addressing reporters in the Oval Office before a closed-door meeting with senators on infrastructure spending, Biden pointed in particular to China’s extensive high-speed rail network and efforts to develop clean energy alternatives to power cars.
“They’re investing billions of dollars in dealing with a whole range of issues that relate to transportation, the environment and a whole range of other things,” Biden said. “So we just have to step up.”
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“If we don’t get moving they’re going to eat our lunch,” Biden said.
The comments were in stark contrast to remarks he made almost two years ago, in the early days of his presidential campaign, when he played down competition from China and said: “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man.”
While Republicans seized on those comments as evidence that Biden would fail to hold Beijing accountable, the early weeks of his presidency have not seen a de-escalation of bilateral tensions that rose during the Trump administration.
State Department officials met this week with Taiwan’s US envoy; senior officials have endorsed the previous administration’s determination that Beijing has committed “crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang; and the Pentagon on Wednesday unveiled a department-wide review of its China strategy so as to “meet the China challenge”.
In his first presidential call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday, Biden pressed his counterpart on Beijing’s human rights record, its actions toward Taiwan and “coercive” economic practices – issues that were absent from the readout of former president Donald Trump’s first call with Xi.
On Thursday, Biden revealed that the call had lasted “two straight hours”, describing it as “a good conversation”.
“I know [Xi] well,” he added. “We spent a lot of time together over the years that I was vice-president.”
In a CBS interview broadcast over the weekend, Biden described Xi as “bright” and “tough”, taking a somewhat more diplomatic approach compared to his characterisation of him as a “thug” during his presidential campaign. Nonetheless, he told CBS, Xi did not have a “democratic … bone in his body”.
While labelling Beijing the United States’ “most serious competitor”, Biden has indicated that his administration will seek to engage with China on areas “when it is in America’s interest to do so”, including the global effort to combat the climate crisis.
Amid continued bipartisan pressure from Congress for the executive branch to take a hard line on Beijing, the Biden administration has also pledged to rally a multilateral front to hold China accountable for actions both within its borders, including suspected human rights abuses, and on the world stage.
In particular, the administration will seek fortify its military alliances with Australia, India and Japan, senior officials said on Wednesday, according to Axios.
“The lion’s share of the history of the 21st century is going to be written in the Asia-Pacific,” said an administration official, speaking on a background call with reporters.
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