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Biden: 'We are in a competition with China to win the 21th century'

President Vows To Add Four Years Of Public Education In First Speech To Congress

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As U.S. President Joe Biden's first 100 days draw to a close, he has one key message to the nation and the world: "America is on the move again."

In his first speech to Congress Wednesday night, Biden introduced an ambitious plan to strengthen U.S. national power -- from adding four more years to public education to boosting investment in research and development -- so as to fend off the challenge of China.

"We're in a competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century," the president said to a standing ovation.

On foreign policy, Biden said that he has told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific, "just as we do with NATO in Europe -- not to start conflict -- but to prevent conflict."

At shortly after 9:00 p.m., the 78-year-old president entered the House chamber amid patchy applause, passing by largely empty aisles, as the event was conducted under heightened security, social distancing measures, with some only 200 attendees all masked up.

The unusual setting serves as a reminder that it has been only a few months since the U.S. Capitol was stormed on Jan. 6, and that the nation is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden opened by saying that he, along with all Americans, inherited a nation in crisis: "the worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War."

But "after 100 days of rescue and renewal, America is ready for takeoff, in my view," said the U.S. president in his State of the Union style address. "We're working again, dreaming again, discovering again, and leading the world again."

Prior to his inauguration, many policy watchers expected Biden's early presidency to be consumed by domestic issues, and that has in large part been true: the top achievements the president highlighted on Friday include the vaccination of 200 million Americans -- double his original promise -- and the passage of the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus.

He also took the occasion to make the case for his ongoing push for two other spending bills -- the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, which would total over $4 trillion in combined spending. Together the two proposals would invest in crucial infrastructure including in the digital sphere, as well as giving Americans better welfare such as healthcare and another four years of free educations by taxing the country's top 1%.

The proposals would mean a massive expansion of the American government and would likely be met with stiff pushback from Republicans.

But the implications of these efforts to rebuild the nation are beyond domestic, according to Biden and his team.

"The investments I've proposed tonight also advance a foreign policy that benefits the middle class," Biden said in his Wednesday remarks.

"There's simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can't be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing," he said of the American Jobs Plan.

In fact, the sweeping infrastructure bill has the explicit objective of outcompeting China.

Biden also said that when he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, "I told him that we welcome the competition."

"We are not looking for conflict," Biden continued. "But I made absolutely clear that I will defend American interests across the board" and stand up against unfair trade practices including state subsidies the theft of American technologies and intellectual property.

"I told him what I've said to many world leaders -- that America won't back away from our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Ryan Hass, a former National Security Director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia and now a senior fellow at Washington think tank Brookings, said that under the Biden administration, the Sino-American relationship is "moving gradually from sharp confrontation to deep competition."

In its first 100 days, the Biden administration is trying to convey to China, "don't underestimate the United States, we are capable of self correction. We do believe that our best days are still ahead of us. Don't think of our focus on values and human rights platitudes," Hass said at a Tuesday panel on U.S.-China relations in Biden's first 100 days hosted by the U.S.-China Education Trust and the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

An important piece of America's plan to win the great power competition with China is bolstering its alliances, the Biden administration has repeatedly made clear.

Japan looks to be on top of its list of priorities: this month, Biden himself welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as the first head of state to visit his administration in Washington.

A joint statement from the two leaders said Washington and Tokyo will work together "to take on the challenges from China" and to ensure a "free and open" the Indo-Pacific, while also referencing "the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait" as well as China's conduct in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet -- issues Beijing has warned both to stay clear of.

Biden and Suga also unveiled together the CoRe Partnership, spanning cooperation areas from the semiconductor supply chain to clean energy.

Japan was also one of the destinations of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's first trip abroad, with the other being South Korea. The top U.S. foreign policy duo met with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts -- including a trilateral meeting -- discussing issues including North Korea.

Biden was also quick to touch base with America's partners in the Quad -- the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue -- with a virtual summit in March.

In contrast, sparks flew at the first high-level meeting between Washington and Beijing. As Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, China's foreign policy masterminds Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi hit back with a tirade on America's own crisis with democracy and human rights records, pointing to its historic treatment of African-Americans.

The Biden administration is still in the midst of a lengthy policy review to determine a holistic China strategy. So far, much of former President Donald Trump's legacy still remain in place including the tariffs. In some cases such as with the so-called technology decoupling, the Biden team appears to be doubling down -- with restrictions on Chinese companies as well as its plan to invest heavily in America's own tech sector.

But these ambitions also rest on America's own containment of COVID-19 as well as its ability to help other countries help combat the pandemic.

"There's no wall high enough to keep any virus away," Biden said. "As our own vaccine supply grows to meet our needs -- and we are meeting them -- we will become an arsenal of vaccines for other countries, just as America was the arsenal of democracy in World War II."

On this front, his administration also has Beijing -- which is trying to win favors around the world with its own vaccine diplomacy -- to compete with.