By Andrea Shalal and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s comment about China being a “ticking time bomb” referred to internal economic and social tensions that could have an effect on how Beijing interacts with the world, a White House official said Friday.
White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that one area of concern regarding China was “the way that they bully and coerce and intimidate countries around the world” by offering high-interest infrastructure loans and then seizing assets when countries defaulted.
He said that concern explained the administration’s request for supplemental funding of $3.3 billion to boost the World Bank’s lending to developing countries and provide a credible alternative to what he called China’s “dangerous” loans. The request was unusual since supplemental budgets are usually reserved for emergency needs, including wars and disasters.
Kirby defended the funding request, saying, “Yes, this is an urgent need for us to be able to provide an alternative.”
Biden’s comments on China, made during a political fundraiser in Utah, drew a sharp response. Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu warned Washington against “scapegoating” Beijing and fanning “division and confrontation.”
“We oppose the U.S. side seeking to make an issue of China, smearing China or talking down China’s prospects,” he said in a statement to Reuters on Friday, without mentioning Biden.
Biden told donors: “China is a ticking time bomb … China is in trouble. China was growing at 8% a year to maintain growth. Now close to 2% a year,” he said, misstating its growth rate. Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics showed the economy grew 4.5% in the first quarter and 6.3% in the second, with gross domestic product up just 0.8% in April-June from the previous quarter after a 2.2% expansion in the first quarter.
Liu said China’s GDP growth continued to provide an important support for the development of the global economy.
Kirby said the United States – which also moved this week to limit outbound investment in certain Chinese sectors – had been consistent about pushing back against China’s behaviors.
“We’ve never shied away from calling it like we see it when it comes to (China’s) behavior, intimidation and coercion of not only their neighbors, but countries around the world,” he said.
“This is a difficult, complex bilateral relationship, the most consequential one in the world. The president understands that,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a need to continue to improve our lines of communication.”
Kirby did not comment on whether the latest comments would scuttle plans for Biden to meet with President Xi Jinping later this year, possibly on the sidelines of next month’s Group of 20 leaders summit in India.
China, which has the world’s second largest economy, said this week said it was “gravely concerned” about the executive order on outbound investment and reserved the right to take measures.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Michael Martina; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)