WASHINGTON—President Biden defended leading democracies’ ability to unite for the good of their citizens as authoritarian China has bounced back more quickly from the Covid-19 pandemic and is increasingly asserting its economic and military might in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Competition with China is going to be stiff,” Mr. Biden said Friday at a virtual meeting of the Munich Security Conference. “We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that—given all the challenges we face from the fourth industrial revolution, through a global pandemic—that autocracy is the best way forward.”
In his remarks, which came after he also addressed a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, Mr. Biden criticized China and Russia directly but didn’t lay out a detailed plan for how the U.S. and its democratic partners in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region could work together during his term.
China’s economy, the world’s second largest, expanded by 2.3% in 2020 to become the only major world economy to grow in a year ravaged by the pandemic. Beijing has also laid claim to disputed islands in the South and East China seas, staged shows of force against Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway Chinese territory, and moved to crack down on Hong Kong’s political autonomy and civil liberties.
The Biden administration has in its first month moved to renew relationships with allies as a way of competing jointly with China, while maintaining the overall tougher U.S. approach taken at the end of former President Donald Trump’s term.