Joe Biden Admin Enters War of Words with China, Russia, and North Korea

In a busy week of foreign policy developments, President Joe Biden and his top officials have engaged in tense exchanges with China, Russia and North Korea, all as the White House looks to bolster America's historic alliances and push back against pressure from authoritarian regimes.

Biden is juggling his commitment to diplomacy and multilateralism with his vow to push back on the world's dictators, figures he and his allies argue former President Donald Trump did too little to rein in.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Japan and South Korea this week, expressing shared concerns over Chinese and North Korean regional aggression.

But the trip prompted threats from Pyongyang, which a senior administration official told Newsweek has not responded to any American diplomatic outreach for more than a year.

Kim Yo Jong—sister and aide to dictator Kim Jong Unissued a statement that read: "We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land.

"If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step," Kim added. Combined with reports that the North might be preparing a new missile test, Kim's remarks raised concerns of a new cycle of escalation between Washington, D.C. and Pyongyang.

Biden's team is committed to denuclearization, though many experts believe that ship has sailed. The White House is yet to broach the idea of arms control agreements with the North, which would be the logical next step after acknowledging that Kim Jong Un is not likely to give up his nuclear weapons.

State Department Principal Deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters Thursday that North Korea's weapons of mass destruction programs are "unlawful and constitute a threat to international peace and security."

The North Korea problem was one element of the first of several bilateral face-to-face meetings between Blinken and top Chinese officials that opened in Anchorage, Alaska on Thursday.

The U.S. delegation was hoping to encourage China to apply pressure on Pyongyang, but the meeting developed into a tense affair dominated by a testy on-camera exchange at the opening of the talks.

Blinken listed a host of U.S. grievances, prompting an angry response from the Chinese delegations. Blinken listed Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, pressure on Taiwan, the threat of cyber attacks on the U.S., and economic coercion of U.S. allies.

"Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability," Blinken said. "That's why they're not merely internal matters, and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today."

National security adviser Jake Sullivan then said China's actions were an "assault on basic values," adding: "We do not seek conflict but we welcome stiff competition."

Senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi hit back, accusing the U.S. of failing to deal with its own human rights issues—citing the continued killing of black Americans by law enforcement—and condemned American interventionism in the Middle East. Yang added he did not appreciate "condescension" from the U.S. side.

Though touted by both sides as a chance to reset ties, the Anchorage meetings appear so far to be an opening salvo in the simmering U.S.-China contest.

Biden came to power amid a bipartisan wave of concern about Chinese Communist Party abuses, including its conduct over the devastating coronavirus pandemic. Biden has vowed to stand up to Beijing, though his team have framed their stance as one of competition rather than conflict.

Meanwhile, relations with a more established U.S. adversary deteriorated further as Biden announced new sanctions against Russia, and U.S. officials published a new report confirming Moscow's meddling in the 2020 election.

Biden suggested President Vladimir Putin is a "killer," related to Russia's covert campaign against dissidents including anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, now jailed.

Biden is widely expected to pursue a tough line on Russia on a range of issues, and on Thursday the State Department also released a statement threatening sanctions against any companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that will run from Russia to Germany. Washington, D.C. considers the pipeline a strategic threat to Europe, and there is bipartisan opposition to the project on Capitol Hill.

American moves drew condemnation from Russia, where lawmakers threatened escalation. Russia's embassy in the U.S. blamed America for collapsing relations between Washington and Moscow, as the Kremlin continued to deny any involvement in its well-evidenced covert influence and assassination operations.

Trump and his allies claimed on the campaign trail that Biden would be too soft on foreign policy—particularly on China—a fear apparently shared by Republican voters according to the recent polls.

But so far, at least, Biden has been relatively true to his campaign promises to stand up to authoritarian regimes. For now, his administration is on course for four years of conflict with Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang.

Chinese officials at Alaska meeting with Blinken
A Chinese delegation led by diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi speak with their U.S. counterparts at the opening session of U.S.-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18, 2021. FREDERIC J. BROWN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images