Stressing diplomacy, Biden says not seeking conflict with China, Russia

Shaun Tandon - Agence France-Presse
Stressing diplomacy, Biden says not seeking conflict with China, Russia
US President Joe Biden, flanked by US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (R), addresses a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2021.
AFP / Melina Mara, Pool

WASHINGTON, United States — US President Joe Biden said Wednesday he was not seeking conflict with China or Russia as he put a renewed focus on diplomacy in his first address to Congress.

In a speech focused on selling major investments at home, Biden told lawmakers who months earlier had dodged a deadly insurrection that they needed to show democracy can work.

"We're in a competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century," Biden said, warning: "Autocrats think democracies can't compete."

Biden said he told President Xi Jinping in a two-hour first phone conversation after taking office: "We welcome the competition — and that we are not looking for conflict."

"But I made absolutely clear that we will defend America's interests across the board," he said.

"America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and industries, like subsidies for state-owned enterprises and the theft of American technologies and intellectual property," he said. 

"I also told President Xi that we will 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," Biden said to applause from an unusually small audience due to Covid restrictions.

In an aside that was not in prepared remarks, Biden noted his extensive dealings with Xi when both were vice presidents — and warned that China's most powerful leader in years had firm plans for the future.

"He's deadly earnest on becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world," Biden said.

Tensions have sharply risen with China over the past few years as the United States also take issue with China's assertive military moves and human rights concerns, including what Washington has described as genocide against the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority.

Focus on cooperation

The speech marked a shift from the hawkish nationalism of his predecessor Donald Trump, with Biden repeatedly speaking of global cooperation.

"There is no wall high enough to keep the virus out," Biden said, alluding to Trump's cherished wall on the Mexican border.

Similar to his message on China, Biden said he did not seek worse relations with Russia.

In his first three months in office, Biden has imposed sanctions over Russia's purported poisoning of ailing dissident Alexei Navalny and over its alleged interference in US elections and hacking operations. 

But Biden has also proposed a summit in a third country with President Vladimir Putin to bring stability to relations and pointed in his speech to cooperation on climate change and the extension of New START, the last Cold war nuclear reduction treaty.

"I made very clear to Putin that we are not going to seek escalation but their actions will have consequences," Biden said.

Flipping the language of George W. Bush when used the same platform nearly two decades ago to assail an "axis of evil," Biden vowed diplomacy on the "serious threat" of the nuclear programs of both Iran and North Korea.

"We'll be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy and stern deterrence,'" Biden said. 

The United States is holding indirect talks with Iran in Vienna in a bid to re-enter a denuclearization accord trashed by Trump.

The Biden administration is separately reviewing policy on North Korea after Trump's unusually personal diplomacy that included three meetings with leader Kim Jong Un.

Vowing to exert US leadership, Biden also said he was reasserting US priorities by ending "the forever war" in Afghanistan — where he is pulling out remaining troops after 20 years.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: January 20, 2022 - 8:42am

Joe Biden takes office as the 46th president of the United States with an optimistic call for unity, vowing to bridge deep divides and defeat domestic extremism two weeks after a violent mob tried to undo his election victory.

On a frigid but sunny day at the very Capitol building that was assaulted on January 6, Biden was sworn in moments after Kamala Harris became America's first woman vice president, closing the book on Donald Trump's tumultuous four years.

"Democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed," Biden says before a National Mall that was virtually empty due to the ultra-tight security and a raging COVID-19 pandemic that he vowed to confront immediately.  — AFP

January 20, 2022 - 8:42am

President Joe Biden says that his first year in office has been a year of "challenges" but also one of "enormous progress."

"It's been a year of challenges, but it's also been a year of enormous progress," Biden says at a press conference held to mark his inauguration a year ago. — AFP

January 17, 2022 - 8:52am

US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will meet virtually Friday to discuss bilateral ties as well as security in the Pacific region, the White House said.

On the agenda will be fighting Covid-19 and climate change and exploring new technologies, according to a statement Sunday from the White House.  

"The meeting will highlight the strength of the US-Japan Alliance, which is the cornerstone of peace, security, and stability in the Indo-Pacific and around the world," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in the statement. — AFP

January 13, 2022 - 8:33am

US inflation is "too high" and the Federal Reserve will make the issue a priority, Lael Brainard, the nominee to take the number-two position at the central bank, said Wednesday.

The Fed's "most important task" is to focus on "getting inflation back down to two percent while sustaining a recovery that includes everyone," Brainard said in remarks prepared for delivery at her nomination hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday. — AFP

January 8, 2022 - 12:34pm

US President Joe Biden will deliver the traditional State of the Union (SOTU) address March 1, the White House says, as the Democrat struggles to tame COVID-19 and get his stalled legislative agenda through Congress.

March is later than usual for the annual address, which a president typically delivers in late January or early February.

The timing is likely due to the pandemic: the Omicron variant is spreading like wildfire in the United States as in other countries and the presidential address is usually given to a packed audience of both chambers of Congress and many VIP guests. — AFP

December 28, 2021 - 11:06am

The United States and Russia will negotiate on nuclear arms control and tensions over Ukraine on January 10, a White House national security spokesman told AFP on Monday.

"The United States looks forward to engaging with Russia," the spokesman for the National Security Council said.

Moscow and NATO representatives are then expected to meet on January 12, while Russia and the OSCE regional security body, which includes the United States, will meet on January 13, the spokesman added. — AFP

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