China will ‘eat our lunch,’ Biden warns after clashing with Xi on most fronts

US President Joe Biden speaks at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, US, February 10, 2021. [Reuters]

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held their first phone call as leaders and appeared at odds on most issues, even as Xi warned that confrontation would be a “disaster” for both nations.

While Xi has called for “win-win” cooperation, Biden has called China America’s “most serious competitor” and vowed to “out compete” Beijing.

On Thursday, Biden told a bipartisan group of US senators at a meeting on the need to upgrade US infrastructure the United States must raise its game in the face of the Chinese challenge.

Biden said he spoke to Xi for two hours on Wednesday night and warned the senators: “If we don’t get moving, they are going to eat our lunch.”

“They’re investing billions of dollars dealing with a whole range of issues that relate to transportation, the environment and a whole range of other things. We just have to step up.”

The White House said Biden emphasized to Xi it was a US priority to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific, a region where the United States and China are major strategic rivals.

He also voiced “fundamental” concerns about Beijing’s “coercive and unfair” trade practices, as well as about human rights issues, including China’s crackdown in Hong Kong and treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang, and its increasingly assertive actions in Asia, including toward Taiwan.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden also expressed concern about China’s lack of transparency over the coronavirus.

All the rights issues Biden mentioned were ones Beijing has explicitly told his administration it should stay out of.

Xi told Biden confrontation would be a “disaster” and the two sides should re-establish the means to avoid misjudgments, China’s foreign ministry said.

Xi maintained a hardline tone on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, calling them matters of “sovereignty and territorial integrity” he hoped Washington would approach cautiously.

The call was the first between Chinese and US leaders since Xi spoke with former President Donald Trump last March 27, nearly 11 months ago. Since then, relations between the world’s two biggest economies have plunged.

Trump blamed China for starting the Covid-19 pandemic and launched a series of actions against China, including a trade war and sanctions against Chinese officials and firms considered security threats.


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