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International relations

Biden says US must 'own the future' in rivalry with China

President warns North Korea over escalations, but remains open to diplomacy

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House.   © AP

NEW YORK -- U.S. President Joe Biden reiterated his call for more investment in America's tech sector on Thursday as he spelled out his approach to dealing with the emerging challenges from China during his first formal news conference since inauguration.

"The future lies [with] who can own the future, as it relates to technology, quantum computing, a whole range of things, including the medical fields," said Biden. "China is out investing us by a long shot because their plan is to own that future."

Biden said the U.S. first needs to invest heavily into scientific research. The current investment stands at 0.7% of U.S gross domestic product, Biden wants to move the percentage closer to 2%, similar to America's expenditure in the 1960s.

Biden mentioned that he had a two-hour phone call with Xi Jinping when the Chinese president dialed to congratulate him on his inauguration. Biden said he made it clear to Xi that the U.S. is not looking for confrontation, but he acknowledged there will be steep competition and his administration will insist that China "plays by the international rules."

Biden said that he has known Xi for a long time. He had spent a lot of time with Xi when he was still the vice president under former President Barack Obama and "allegedly spent more time with Xi than any other world leader." He called Xi a "smart guy," but he is "one of the guys like Putin, who thinks that autocracy is the wave of the future, democracy can't function in an ever complex world."

"Xi doesn't have a democratic -- with a small 'd' -- bone in his body," the U.S. president said.

To deal with Beijing's behavior, Biden said he will reestablish alliances with Europe and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad -- which consists of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia -- to hold China accountable. The president said he planned to speak with 27 European heads of state and will invite "an alliance of democracies" to come to the U.S. to discuss the future, including issues with the South China Sea, Taiwan, China's human rights violations and more.

But it is not about "anti-Chinese," Biden said.

"The thing that I admire about dealing with Xi is Xi understands. He makes no pretense about not understanding what I'm saying anymore than I do him," Biden said. "I pointed out to him, no leader can be sustained in his position or her position unless they represent the values of the country... America values the notion of freedom and human rights. We don't always live up to our expectations, but there's a value system. We are founded on that principle."

Biden said the U.S. will continue to call attention to the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and China's alleged abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang because "the moment a president walks away from that, as the last one did, is the moment we began to lose all legitimacy around the world."

The president has said he wants to rebuild trust and confidence within and outside the U.S. since before the election.

"We're in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution of enormous consequence... Our democracy is equipped because all the people get to speak [and] compete," Biden said. "This is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century. That's what's at stake here, we got to prove democracy works."

Biden also said that although he sees "stiff competition" with China, he "does not criticize" Beijing's overall goal to "become a leading country in the world."

But Biden wants to make sure that the U.S. stays on top as "the wealthiest country in the world" and "the most powerful country in the world," because the U.S. will "continue to grow and expand" under his watch.

On the topic of North Korea, Biden said he was still open to diplomacy despite recent missile test conducted by the isolated country, adding that he suspected ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang violated U.N. resolution 1718 that places restrictions on Pyongyang's weapons.

"We are consulting with our allies and partners, and there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly," he said. "I'm also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization."

The president also addressed a range of topics including COVID-19 vaccines, immigration, infrastructure, working with Republicans and possibility of him running for reelection in 2024. Biden, 78, said he "expects" to run but did not give a firm answer.

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