Biden Outlines China Policy in First Call With China’s Xi

February 10, 2021 Updated: February 10, 2021

President Joe Biden spoke to Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Feb. 10 about China’s unfair economic practices, the crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and assertive actions in the Indo-Pacific region, including toward Taiwan.

Biden and Xi have had a long relationship dating back years. But Wednesday marked the first time Biden interfaced with Xi as president of the United States. According to a readout of the call from the White House, “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 two leaders also exchanged views on countering the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation,” the readout stated.

The call coincided with the Lunar New Year and Biden shared his greetings.

The call between the two leaders was highly anticipated and the topics covered serve as a brief outline of Biden’s priorities for his China policy. In confirmation hearings, several members of Biden’s administration would not call the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) an adversary and pivoted instead toward Biden’s definition of China as a key global competitor.

The administration of President Donald Trump enacted some of the toughest measures to counter the CCP in decades, including support and recognition of Taiwan and Hong Kong, and forming alliances in the Indo-Pacific to deter the CCP’s ambitions in the region. In the last days of the Trump administration, the State Department called the CCP’s treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang a genocide.

The readout of Biden’s call doesn’t make clear if the president has signaled any change in course from the previous administration’s China policy.

Biden said on Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Defense will be conducting a review on how the military will handle the threat posed by China.

“It will require a whole-of-government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and strong alliances and partnerships,” Biden said at the Pentagon. “That’s how we’ll meet the China challenge and ensure the American people win the competition of the future.”

The review, he added, will help “chart a strong path forward on China-related matters.”

On Sunday, Biden told CBS News that the Chinese regime should expect “extreme competition” from the United States, although he said the relationship doesn’t necessarily need to be based on conflict. “We will confront China’s economic abuses,” Biden said, adding the regime is America’s “most serious competitor.”

Biden, however, said that he will take a different approach to the CCP than Trump—whose administration frequently criticized the regime for its rampant human rights violations, spreading of disinformation, and acts of non-compliance against the rules-based international order rooted in liberal democratic values.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.

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