Biden Criticizes China’s Economic Woes and Xenophobia in Campaign Speech

President Joe Biden referred to China as “xenophobic,” highlighting the Asian nation’s economic difficulties, as he sought to make the case for U.S. economic strength during a campaign stop in the pivotal state of Pennsylvania.

“Their population has more people in retirement than working. They’re not importing anything. They’re xenophobic — nobody else coming in. They’ve got real problems,” Biden said of China in remarks to steel workers in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The president’s comments followed a phone call two weeks prior with Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first since an in-person meeting in November. While overall relations have stabilized recently, tensions are growing over Chinese investments in manufacturing that risk leading to job losses among blue-collar workers.

Biden also called for higher tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum, part of a series of steps to shore up the American steel sector including a pledge by the president that Japan’s Nippon Steel Corp. wouldn’t successfully acquire Pittsburgh-based United States Steel Corp.

The tariffs would see the U.S. impose new 25% levies on certain Chinese steel and aluminum products as part of an ongoing review, while his administration also launches a formal probe into China’s shipbuilding industry. China’s Commerce Ministry on Wednesday criticized the U.S. review, saying it was “full of false accusations” and “based on the need of domestic politics.”

Biden also criticized Trump for his policies toward Beijing while in office.

“Trump simply doesn’t get it,” Biden said, claiming that it’s incorrect to view China as on the rise and the U.S. falling behind. Asked as he departed Pittsburgh if the steel tariffs would hurt ties with Xi, Biden responded “no.”

Chinese officials have recently sought to boost investor confidence overseas, after years of strict pandemic curbs and tighter national security controls dented sentiment. Foreign businesses’ direct investment into China slumped to a 30-year low in 2023, underscoring challenges facing Beijing.

Xi’s government has expanded visa-free entry to a range of European and Asian nations of late, after he pledged “heart-warming” measures for investors last year during a trip to the U.S. However, China has so far struggled to woo back foreigners after shutting the nation off during the pandemic: The business hub of Shanghai saw 44% fewer foreign visitors in the first two months of this year compared with the same period in 2019.

Imports have also been weak, with falling commodity prices and weak domestic demand due to a housing market crisis and other issues undermining Chinese purchases of foreign goods. Imports were up 1.5% in the first three months of this year, after a 5.5% drop last year.

Biden also vowed to continue efforts to deny China advanced technology like computer chips, which has spurred Xi to invest in becoming more self-sufficient.

“They can’t be sent to China because it would undermine our national security,” Biden said. “When I spoke with Xi Jinping he said ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because you’d use it for all the wrong reasons, so you’re not gonna get those advanced computer chips.’”