Xi Jinping Sends Strong Message to Joe Biden in Pointed Davos Speech

China's Xi Jinping cautioned world leaders against forming "cliques" or starting a "new Cold War" during a pointed Davos speech that included a veiled message for President Joe Biden.

The Chinese leader's virtual address for the World Economic Forum signaled Beijing's ambition to play a leading role in global economic and public health governance at a time when the U.S. and its economy are crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Before his inauguration, Biden had already made clear his intention to compete with China, whose growing influence in Asia and beyond is seen by Washington lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as the biggest challenge to the country going forward.

One of the president's stated goals—and also the foreign policy mission of key members in his cabinet—is to return America to the world stage and ally with international partners in order to counter certain policies by Beijing that are seen as threatening regional security.

Xi, however, appeared to issue a strong message to the U.S. and its allies when he called for the abandoning of "ideological prejudice." In his 20-minute speech, he said attempts to "force one's own history, culture and social system upon others" was cause for alarm.

Antony Blinken, who is expected to receive enough votes to make him Biden's secretary of state, recently sounded agreement with certain policies by the Trump administration, including its classification of human rights abuses in Xinjiang as "genocide."

Despite Biden's plan to seek cooperation from Beijing on global issues such as climate change and nuclear nonproliferation, his government is nonetheless likely to clash with the Chinese leadership over its crushing of Hong Kong's democratic movement and the People's Liberation Army's continued intimidation of Taiwan.

Following the Chinese military's flying of a combined 28 warplanes southwest of Taiwan over the weekend, the Biden administration put out a statement reaffirming its "rock-solid" commitment to Taipei. It called on Beijing to cease its military pressure and said it should engage in meaningful dialog with the island.

On Monday, the Chinese president told leaders at Davos: "The strong should not bully the weak."

While not addressing Biden by name, Xi made his stance on China's policies clear through the subtext of his remarks, which included the line: "We should respect and accommodate differences, avoid interfering in other countries' domestic affairs and solve disagreements through consultation and dialog."

"To build cliques or start a new Cold War; to reject, threaten or intimidate others... will only push the world into division and even confrontation," Xi added, in a likely reference to Biden's call for a "coalition of democracies" to counter China.

The Chinese president's speech also seemed to include criticism aimed at former President Trump's more hawkish China policies, many of which are expected to remain under the Biden administration.

Xi described "willful decoupling, supply disruption or sanctions, isolation or estrangement" as leading to confrontation and, ultimately, a "dead end."

In his address, Xi used the phrase "multilateralism" 11 times. Amid an atmosphere of increased scrutiny on China's trade practices, Xi said he wanted an "open world economy" and the tearing down of trade barriers.

He indicated his ambition not only to have China play a key role in global institutions—filling a void left by the previous U.S. administration—but also his plan to have China lead changes in international bodies such as the World Trade Organization.

Xi said reform of the "international financial and monetary system" was necessary to protect the "development rights, interests and opportunities of developing countries," of which China identifies as a member.

Amid a global pandemic, China had the world's only major economy to record positive GDP growth—2.3 percent, according to government figures. The world's second-largest economy is forecast to push on in 2021 on the back of a bilateral trade agreement with the European Union.

Expectations are for Xi to once again present himself in a global leadership role, much like he did in 2017 when he last addressed Davos leaders the day before Donald Trump became U.S. president.

Following Xi's address, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters the Biden administration would approach China with "strategic patience."

"What we've seen over the last few years is that China's growing more authoritarian at home and more assertive abroad, and Beijing is now challenging our security, prosperity and values in significant ways that require a new U.S. approach," Psaki said.

Asked about Psaki's comments on Tuesday, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said he hoped the new U.S. administration would "learn the lessons" of the last.

He said the Trump administration was mistaken to treat China as a "strategic competitor" and a "threat."

The last government's "meddling" in China's internal affairs also caused U.S.-China relations to be in their "most serious" state since ties were normalized four decades ago, Zhao added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping Addresses Davos Leaders
File photo: Chinese President Xi Jinping. Naohiko Hatta/Getty Images