President Joe Biden warned Beijing against violating U.S. sovereignty in a speech on Tuesday that called for unity between Democrats and Republicans in what he termed America’s “competition, not conflict” with China.
In a State of the Union speech that had all the trappings of a campaign launch for the 2024 presidential vote and mostly focussed on his domestic agenda, Biden touted the successes of his administration’s CHIPS Act. The law to reduce dependence on technology from China was creating “hundreds of thousands of jobs” by boosting U.S. semiconductor research, development, and production, he said.
Without mentioning it by name, Biden alluded to last week’s balloon fracas in calling for unity across the political aisle. He said he “made clear” with President Xi Jinping that “we seek competition, not conflict,” mirroring language that came out of the meeting of the two leaders on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Bali last year.
“I am committed to work with China where we can advance American interests and benefit the world,” the president said before the joint sitting of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
“But make no mistake about it: As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” he said, calling for both parties to work together in the contest with Beijing. “Let’s be clear: Winning the competition with China should unite all of us. We face serious challenges across the world.”
He said recent events proved the fight for influence was far from over.
“In the past two years, democracies have become stronger, not weaker. Autocracy has grown weaker, not stronger: Name me a world leader who’d change places with Xi Jinping,” he said. “Name me one.”
Biden, though, didn’t shy away from America’s own failings.
Noting the continued epidemic of drug overdose deaths in the United States, he said his administration would double down on efforts to reduce flows of fentanyl entering the country. He also called for a complete ban on assault rifles to help stem the endless cases of mass shootings.
But the more than hourlong speech largely centered on Biden and the Democrats’ preferred domestic focal points for the 2024 election cycle, including the Inflation Reduction Act and infrastructure spending.
He ribbed Republican lawmakers for campaigning in their electorates on infrastructure spending they had opposed when it was before Congress, leading to laughter and jeers from the House chamber.
But when it came to the CHIPS and Science Act, the president acknowledged the bipartisan nature of the $280-billion bill, which has formed a key part of U.S. efforts to revive its microchips industry.
Biden noted chips “were invented in America” but that production had over the years migrated abroad, with most chips around the world now produced in Taiwan, mainland China, South Korea and Japan.
“Let’s get that straight: They were invented in America — we used to make 40% of the world’s chips,” Biden said. “In the last several decades, we lost our edge — we’re down only producing 10%.”
He touted the economic and job-creation benefits of the massive spending package aimed to reshore production to the United States, which has led to claims from officials in Beijing about protectionism and a “Cold War mentality” from the Biden administration.
“We all saw what happened during the pandemic when chip factories shut down overseas,” he said. “Today’s Automobiles need 3,000 chips each … but American automobiles couldn’t make enough cars because there weren’t enough chips. Car prices went up. People got laid off.”
“We’re gonna create hundreds of thousands of new jobs across the country,” Biden said. “I mean, all across the country — not just the coast, but throughout the middle of the country as well.”
Biden also noted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which he said had “been a test for the ages,” and showed America was prepared “to stand for the most basic of principles.”
But the bulk of the State of the Union speech otherwise shied away from foreign policy, with a president seen as moving into 2024 campaign mode focussing on his domestic agenda and pleas for increased bipartisan unity.