Biden Hints at 'Extreme Competition' With China, Says There's No Need for Conflict

President Joe Biden is aware of the significance of the U.S. relationship with China, but his administration is going to navigate foreign policy on its own terms.

"We need not have a conflict, but there's going to be extreme competition," Biden said to anchor Norah O'Donnell in an interview to air in full Sunday evening on CBS Evening News. Referring to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, he said, "I'm not going to do it the way that he knows. And that's because he's sending signals as well. I'm not going to do it the way Trump did."

China's relationship with America "is probably one of the most important in the entire world," O'Donnell said. Xi's growing power will be extremely important to Biden's foreign policy agenda. Most Europeans believe China will surpass the U.S. as the most powerful nation in 10 years. Last year, EU-China trade from January to September surpassed $516 billion, far more than that between Europe and the U.S. during the same period.

Pres. Biden tells us that when dealing with Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping, he’s “not going to do it the way Pres. Trump did.”

“We're gonna focus on international rules of the road,” Pres. Biden says of the “extreme competition” with China

More tonight ahead of the Super Bowl on @CBS

— Norah O'Donnell 🇺🇸 (@NorahODonnell) February 7, 2021

When O'Donnell asked why Biden has not yet spoken with Xi since taking office last month, he told the anchor about his past experiences engaging with China's leader during his visits to China in 2011 and 2013, and later when Xi came to Iowa in 2015.

"We haven't had occasion to talk to him yet," Biden said. "There's no reason not to call him. I probably spent more time with Xi Jinping, I'm told, than any world leader has, because I had 24, 25 hours of private meetings with him when I was vice president. Traveled 17,000 miles with him. I know him pretty well."

Xi Jingping
President Joe Biden has not called his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping since taking office, giving initial comments on U.S.-China relations during an interview with CBS Evening News on Sunday. Above, the two leaders shake hands in Beijing on December 4, 2013. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Biden has said his strategy toward China will be to "focus on international rules of the road," meaning he will rely on global partners to collectively confront China's growing global dominance.

Meanwhile the Biden administration is already receiving signals of growing tensions between the two nations. On Inauguration Day, China issued a list of sanctions against 28 officials who served under former President Donald Trump, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Last week, Yang Jiechi, Xi's senior diplomat, issued a pointed warning to Biden not to cross a "red line" and interfere in "China's core interests." In a similar incident, Secretary of State Antony Blinken received criticism after he commented to NBC News that China has acted "egregiously" to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. China said "foreign interference" into its internal affairs would not be welcome. Taiwan has also called for closer security ties with the U.S., a move that could provoke further escalations with China.

Biden told O'Donnell that he and Xi had "a lot to talk about."

"He's very bright. He's very tough. He doesn't have—and I don't mean it as a criticism, just the reality—he doesn't have a democratic, small D, bone in his body," Biden said of Xi.

Biden also commented on U.S. relations with Iran during the interview. O'Donnell asked whether the U.S. would lift sanctions first in order to pull Iran back into negotiations on a nuclear deal.

"No," was Biden's one-word answer. He confirmed Iran would need to first stop enriching uranium before the U.S. would come to the table on a nuclear deal.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded on Sunday to Biden's comments: "If [the U.S.] wants Iran to return to its commitments, it must lift all sanctions in practice, then we will do verification...then we will return to our commitments."

Iran resumed enriching uranium in January, a direct violation of the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed debilitating sanctions on Iran. Biden has been clear that he would rejoin the 2015 agreement, but is demanding Iran scale back its nuclear program before he eases sanctions and enters back into the agreement.

The Biden administration is already working on a plan for Iran. Blinken met virtually with foreign ministers from Germany, France and the U.K on Friday to discuss a multilateral Iran strategy, NBC News reported. Biden's National Security Council also met on Friday to review the administration's internal approach.

Biden's interview with CBS Evening News will air at 4 p.m. EST before the Super Bowl on Sunday.