Biden presses China on 'unfair' trade practices & human rights abuses in first phone call with Xi

Lunar New Year's eve call.

Kayla Wong | February 11, 2021, 11:56 AM

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U.S. President Joe Biden, in his first phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday morning, Feb. 11, pressed the latter on issues such as "coercive and unfair economic practices" and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Pressed China on Taiwan and Hong Kong

The call was also Xi's first conversation with a U.S. President since last March, when he spoke to former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Wishing Xi a happy Lunar New Year, Biden brought up China's "increasingly assertive actions" in the region towards Taiwan, as well as its political crackdown in Hong Kong, according to a statement released by the White House.

In addition, the two leaders sought to find common ground on shared challenges, such as countering the Covid-19 pandemic, tackling global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation.

The statement also said Biden stressed his priorities of protecting the American people’s security, health and way of life, and "preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific".

In addition, Biden committed to pursuing engagements that "advances the interests of the American people and those of [their] allies".

Biden spoke to allies in the region first

A White House official told Bloomberg that while Biden went into the conversation with no illusions, he wants to ensure an open line of communication with Xi as well.

The phone call with Xi comes after Biden had spoken to a number of world leaders, including European and Asian allies like the Canadian and British Prime Ministers, the South Korean President, the Japanese Prime Minister, and even the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A State Department official had previously told Bloomberg the Biden administration would want to ensure it spoke with its allies first before engaging with Beijing.

Biden to continue with Trump's tough approach to China

Biden's first phone call with Xi appears to demonstrate that the American President plans to carry on his predecessor's confrontational approach to China.

In his first foreign policy address last Thursday, Feb. 4, Biden called China "the most serious competitor" to the U.S., and pledged to take on the challenges posed by China on the U.S.

He also said his administration would "confront China's economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive actions, and push back on China's attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance", South China Morning Post reported.

Biden, who had called Xi a "thug" on his campaign trail, also said on Wednesday, Feb. 11, that he had instructed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to form a task force to review national security policy with regards to China.

Such a stance is repeated by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well, who said that China "poses the most significant challenge of any nation state to the U.S."

Top image of Xi and Biden in 2012 via Getty Images