Joe Biden on Wednesday held his first call as the President of USA with Xi Jinping, pressing the Chinese leader about trade and Beijing’s crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong as well as other human rights concerns.
The two leaders spoke just hours after Biden announced plans for a Pentagon task force to review U.S. national security strategy in China and after the new U.S. president announced he was levying sanctions against Myanmar’s military regime following this month’s coup in the southeast Asian country.
A White House statement said Biden raised concerns about Beijing’s “coercive and unfair economic practices.” Biden also pressed Xi on Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses against Uighur and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and its actions toward Taiwan. “I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people,” Biden posted on Twitter after the call.
China’s state broadcaster CCTV struck a mostly positive tone about the conversation, saying Xi acknowledged the two sides had their differences, and those differences should be managed but urged overall cooperation.
CCTV said Xi pushed back against Biden’s concerns on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, saying the issues are China’s internal affairs and concern Chinese sovereignty. He warned, “The US should respect China’s core interests and act with caution.”
Biden, who had dealt with the Chinese leader when he served as Barack Obama’s vice president, used his first three weeks in the White House to make several calls with other leaders in the Indo-Pacific region. He has tried to send the message that he would take a radically different approach to China than former President Donald Trump, who placed a trade and economic issues above all else in the US-China relationship.
Top aides to Biden have repeatedly heard from Asia-Pacific counterparts who had become discouraged by Trump’s frequently sharp rhetoric aimed at allies, talk of reducing troop levels in South Korea and odd interactions with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private calls.
Allies in the region have made clear they want a more purposeful and steady approach to engagements going forward, according to the official. To that end, Biden and other top administration officials have taken care in their initial interactions with their counterparts to look to the long game in resetting the relationships.