The White House pushed back on suggestions that President Joe Biden is toughening his rhetoric on China, a day after he called the world’s second-largest economy a “ticking time bomb,” saying the remarks were consistent with US criticisms of Beijing.
(Bloomberg) — The White House pushed back on suggestions that President Joe Biden is toughening his rhetoric on China, a day after he called the world’s second-largest economy a “ticking time bomb,” saying the remarks were consistent with US criticisms of Beijing.
“The president is referring to the domestic challenges that China has at home, and some of those are on the economic front. And some of those are on the social and cultural front,” said US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday.
Kirby said he wanted to counter the idea that the US had “sharpened our language.”
“We have been very consistent about pushing back on China, in the region and beyond, rhetorically and tangibly, where and when we believe it’s in our best interest and in the interest of our allies and partners to do so,” Kirby said. “We’ve never shied away from calling it like we see it when it comes to PRC behavior and intimidation and coercion, of not only the neighbors, but in countries around the world.”
Biden on Thursday criticized the US’s top geopolitical and economic rival, referring to Chinese Communist Party leaders as “bad folks.” He said the country is in trouble because its economy has stalled and mocked President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative as “debt and noose,” over its high levels of lending to developing countries.
The president’s comments also included several inaccuracies about China’s economy.
“China was growing at 8% a year to maintain growth, now close to 2% a year,” Biden told donors at a political fundraiser in Park City, Utah, misstating its rate of expansion. “It’s in a position where the number of people who are of retirement age is larger than the number of people of working age,” he added, another incorrect statement that was off by hundreds of millions of people.
“They got some problems,” he said. “That’s not good because when bad folks have problems, they do bad things.”
Read more: Biden Calls China’s Economy ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ in New Barb
Biden’s comments were some of his most direct criticisms yet of China and threatened to undo months of delicate diplomacy aimed at easing recent tensions and paving the way for a potential meeting with Xi, who is expected to visit the US in November to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
The remarks though come at a sensitive time for Xi and China, where the overall economic outlook remains grim. China’s gross domestic product grew at a slower-than-expected pace of 5.5% in the first half of the year, compared with a year earlier, leading to worries about ripple effects for the global economy.
China slid into deflation in July, and is battling slowing exports, high youth unemployment and a slumping property market highlighted by a debt crisis for Country Garden Holdings Co., once the country’s largest private-sector developer by sales and now in danger of defaulting.
Biden insisted Thursday that the US is not looking for a fight with Beijing, but his comments follow new investment curbs by the US targeting the semiconductor, quantum computing and artificial intelligence sectors, and new tensions over Taiwan, whose vice president, Lai Ching-te, is planning to stop in New York and San Francisco in the coming days.
“This is a difficult, complex bilateral relationship,” Kirby said Friday.
“The president understands that and when he met with President Xi, back in Bali, they agreed they both need to lead in this relationship and manage it in a responsible way,” he added. “Nothing has changed about the approach that we want to take.”
It is unclear how China will respond to Biden’s latest remarks. After Biden called Xi a “dictator” in June, the country called the remarks a “public political provocation,” before going on to welcome Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and climate envoy John Kerry on separate trips weeks later. US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is slated to visit China later this month.
Xi and Biden have not spoken since they met on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia in November — a meeting that was followed by months of deteriorating relations over incidents from an alleged spy balloon to military encounters in the South China Sea.
–With assistance from Hadriana Lowenkron.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.