President Joe Biden devoted only a small portion of his first speech to a joint session of Congress to discuss his foreign policy agenda, but his remarks underscored the focus the Pentagon has on countering the growing military might of China. There were several references in the speech to the two-hour phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping that followed Biden’s inauguration in January.
“In my discussions with President Xi, I told him we welcome the competition. We are not looking for conflict. But I made absolutely clear that we will defend America’s interests across the board,” Biden said. “I also told President Xi that we’ll maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific, just as we do with NATO in Europe, not to start a conflict but to prevent one.”
“He’s deadly earnest on becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world,” Biden said of Xi. “He and others, autocrats, think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies. It takes too long to get consensus.”
As a candidate, Biden was sharply critical of the tariffs President Donald Trump imposed on China, arguing they hurt U.S. consumers and manufacturers who had to pay higher prices for Chinese goods and U.S. farmers who sold their crops to China.
But Biden has kept the Trump tariffs in place and last night vowed to maintain the pressure on Beijing to play fair. “America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and American industries, like subsidies from state to state-owned operations and enterprises and the theft of American technology and intellectual property,” Biden said.
“There is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing — no reason.”
‘Biden argued that China’s Xi Jinping is emboldened by what he sees as the decline and impending fall of American-style democracy. “He and others, autocrats, think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies. It takes too long to get consensus.”
“They believe we’re too full of anger and division and rage,” Biden said near the end of his address. “They look at the images of the mob that assaulted the Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on democracy, but they’re wrong. You know it. I know it. But we have to prove them wrong.”
“Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate, and fears that have pulled us apart? America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting we can’t, and I promise you they’re betting we can’t.”
In last night’s speech, Biden reiterated the same arguments for leaving Afghanistan that advanced when he made the decision two weeks ago to end the U.S. troop presence in the country after two decades of war.
“We want Afghanistan to get terrorists, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. And we said we would follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell to do it. If you’ve been in the Upper Kunar Valley, you’ve kind of seen the gates of hell,” Biden said. “And we delivered justice to bin Laden. We degraded the terrorist threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. And after 20 years of value, valor, and sacrifice, it’s time to bring those troops home.”
“Even as we do, we’ll maintain over-the-horizon capacity to suppress future threats to the homeland. Make no mistake, in 20 years, terrorism has metastasized. The threat has evolved way beyond Afghanistan,” he said. “Al Qaeda and ISIS are in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, other places in Africa, and the Middle East and beyond.”