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President Biden Speaks With Chinese President Xi Jinping


President Biden had a very important phone call tonight - his first conversation as president with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. It's a call that will set the tenor for U.S. competition and cooperation with China during the next four years. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us now to talk about this.

Hi, Franco.


SHAPIRO: What more can you tell us about the call? What did they discuss?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, the White House spelled out some of the tough issues it faces with China, including human rights, unfair economic practices and increased aggression in the Indo-Pacific. You know, I really want to point out that this isn't the first time that these two leaders have talked. Their relationship goes back years to the Obama administration. And Biden officials I talked to tonight ahead of the call said they were - you know, he was looking forward to it, even though he was getting ready to raise these concerns about things like China's trade practices and treatment of ethnic minority groups.

SHAPIRO: You know, the former president had such an up-and-down relationship with China between the trade war and the pandemic. What does this first conversation say about how Biden's policy toward China might be different?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, the United States sees areas of common interest with China as well, including on climate change. The Biden administration doesn't plan to throw out all of Trump's China policy, including the tariffs, for example, at least until a review is completed. There have been some concerns from China hawks that Biden would be softer on China, and one official did say tonight there was merit in some of the competitive aspects that Trump had. But, you know, the Biden team takes issue with how Trump went about it, namely the go-it-alone approach and the lack of emphasis on traditional human rights and democracy issues. So what I think we should expect to see is more working with partners in the region and other allies on China.

SHAPIRO: President Biden was at the Pentagon earlier today, and he talked about China there. Let's listen to what he said.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And we need to meet the growing challenges posed by China to keep peace and defend our interests in the Indo-Pacific and globally.

SHAPIRO: Explain why he went to the Pentagon ahead of this call.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, again, you know, there is some symbolism here. It was his first trip to the Pentagon as president, and China was the only country that he singled out while he was there. Biden announced that the Pentagon would have a task force to look at China; you know, to look at the strategy, technology, force posture. And then it will report back to Secretary Austin in the next few months, over the summer, he said. And officials told us tonight that they've heard a lot of concerns from allies about Chinese military behavior on Taiwan, in the South China Sea. And the Biden team has also heard concerns about the commitment of the United States to the region after years of the America-first policy of Trump. So basically, concerns are whether the United States will have their back, so there's a lot to confront here.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez on Biden's first call as president with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping tonight.

Franco, thank you for the update.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you so much, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.