President Biden on Wednesday had his first call with Chinese President Xi Jinping since taking office, with the two leaders discussing a number of sensitive issues, including human rights, trade policy and international security.
While the two leaders opened the door to working together on climate change, nuclear proliferation and fighting COVID-19, a senior administration official told the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. must “join together with others to hold China accountable for its abuses and to shape China’s choices going forward.”
Biden raised his “fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices,” as well as human rights issues and “preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific” region, according to a statement from the White House.
“I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people,” Biden said in a tweet.
The Chinese leader said that “cooperation is the only correct choice for both sides,” according to a readout from Chinese state media.
“China and the U.S. will have different views on certain issues and the key is to respect each other, treat each other equally, and to manage and deal with the issues in a constructive manner,” Xi reportedly said.
The call comes as Biden initiated a Pentagon review of national security aspects of the administration’s China strategy after he last week called China “our most serious competitor.”
The new China task force will study the military’s footprint in Asia, technology, intelligence, the role of allies and partnerships, and other areas of the strategy, administration officials said and will ultimately offer a baseline assessment of the Defense Department’s policies, programs and processes on China.
Biden’s strategy includes a focus on allies, which he says will give the U.S. an edge in its competition with China —a shift from former President Donald Trump’s outlook on the situation. The U.S. plans to work with allies on a plan to deny critical technologies to Beijing, the official told the Journal.
However, the president will leave heavy Trump-era tariffs, including levies on $370 billion of Chinese imports, in place while the new administration reviews trade policy internally and with allies, according to the report.
Biden officials are reviewing “the sources of leverage we have on the economic front,” the official said. The administration will then “move out with a sharper, more effective trade strategy towards China, off the baseline of the existing tariffs, not pulling them all back right out of the gate,” the official added.