(Bloomberg) -- US President Joe Biden taunted Xi Jinping in his State of the Union address, saying autocracies had grown weaker around the world and no one would want the Chinese leader’s job.
“Name me a world leader who’d change places with Xi Jinping,” Biden shouted, departing from his prepared text Tuesday night as he waved a finger. “Name me one, name me one.”
It was the most fiery reference to China in the speech, days after the US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina following the airship’s flight across the country. Biden made only a passing reference to the uproar.
“I am committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” Biden said. “But make no mistake: As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”
While Xi has generally avoided naming the US or his American counterparts in his own speeches over his decade in power, he has asserted that the “East is rising and the West is declining.” Chinese diplomats have at the same time accused the US of trying to divide the world into rival blocs to contain the country’s rise.
“It is China’s consistent belief that China-US relations are not a zero-sum game, where one’s gain comes at the other’s loss,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Wednesday in response to a question about Biden’s remarks. “China and the US are each other’s opportunity, not challenges. And the globe is wide enough to accommodate the two countries and for each other to prosper.”
The spying dispute prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing. China denied the balloon was an espionage device, insisting it was conducting weather research and accusing the US of overreacting.
Biden didn’t seek in the address to Congress to cool tensions fueled by a host of other actions, including new US export controls on sensitive microchip technology. The US contends that China is taking a more aggressive posture, including against the self-governing island of Taiwan.
Biden had met Xi in Bali last November with a pledge to try to reverse a slide in the relationship and resume military contacts that were suspended after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. But the Pentagon said Tuesday that China had rebuffed efforts to set up a call between the two countries’ top defense officials after the balloon was shot down.
Biden told reporters Monday that the balloon incident didn’t weaken US-China relations and shrugged off the notion of Chinese spying, saying it was “something that’s anticipated from China.”
While Biden didn’t otherwise dwell on China in the speech, he said that the US had “lost our edge” in producing semiconductors and cited how automakers weren’t able to get chips produced overseas during the pandemic.
“We can never let that happen again,” he said.
The US last month reached a deal with the Netherlands and Japan to limit advanced semiconductor equipment being shipped to China, a move that analysts say is likely to cripple Beijing’s tech ambitions. The White House is also aiming to restrict investments into critical sectors in China through executive action that’s been in the works for months.
--With assistance from Colum Murphy and Jing Li.
(Updates with Chinese Foreign Ministry response in sixth paragraph.)
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