New bill addresses economic competition with China while also addressing human rights concerns over Xinjiang, Hong Kong.
United States President Joe Biden singled out China in his first speech to Congress, pledging to maintain a strong US military presence in the Indo-Pacific region and promising to boost technological development and trade.
“China and other countries are closing in fast. We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future,” Biden said on Wednesday.
And in a line that drew some of the strongest applause of the evening, he said, “There is simply no reason the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.”
Biden has repeatedly identified competition with China as the greatest foreign policy challenge the country faces. He and his fellow Democrats, as well as opposition Republicans, have all moved towards a harder line on dealings with Beijing.
“America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and American industries, like subsidies to state-owned enterprises and the theft of American technology and intellectual property,” Biden said.
Competition, not conflict
“We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century,” Biden said. Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden added, is “deadly earnest” about China “becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world”.
Biden reiterated previous comments that he believes the US and China can find areas of cooperation – he cited countering climate change as an example – and that conflict is not inevitable. But he promised that the US will stand its ground when it thinks US or global interests are at stake.
He also said he told Xi that the US will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific region “just as we do for NATO in Europe – not to start conflict – but to prevent one”.
While offering few specifics, Biden gave more attention to China than any other foreign policy issue in a speech largely focused on domestic policies.
He has been urging policymakers to pass a sweeping bipartisan package of legislation now making its way through the Senate that would press Beijing on human rights, address the trade imbalance and boost funding for US development of new technologies to compete more effectively with China.
“America won’t back away from our commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms and our alliances,” he said.
Biden also addressed competition with another geopolitical rival, Russia. He said he had made clear to President Vladimir Putin that Moscow’s interference in US elections and cyberattacks on government and businesses would have consequences, but Washington does not seek an escalation.
And, in a departure from the go-it-alone foreign policy of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, Biden said he would work closely with allies to counter the threats posed by the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea.