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() — President Joe Biden defended his foreign policy stance toward China on Tuesday, pointing to his decision to shoot down a surveillance balloon as evidence that his administration is willing to “protect our country” against threats from Beijing during his State of the Union address.
The U.S. military shot down the alleged Chinese spy apparatus Saturday while it was over the Atlantic Ocean, days after the Pentagon revealed it had been tracking the balloon as it traversed the country. Republicans criticized Biden for not acting sooner.
The president told Congress he made it clear to Chinese President Xi Jinping he does not seek conflict, but sought to draw a line in the sand.
“I am committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” Biden said. “But make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China’s threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country, and we did.”
U.S. defense officials first acknowledged the balloon Thursday, when they said they were certain it belonged to China but posed no real threat. The Pentagon maintained the balloon offered no additional intelligence gathering capabilities than those of Chinese satellites.
China said the U.S. response was an “overreaction” and claimed the balloon was a civilian airship. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned trip to Beijing, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said his Chinese counterpart refused to answer calls from him after the incident.
Johanna Maska, CEO of Global Situation Room, said on after Biden’s speech that it’s incumbent on American leaders to convey the threat China poses.
“I think Americans do not understand just how determined (China) is at their (goal of) dominance,” Maska said. “We need to take this threat seriously, because China is preparing toward that world in which they’re going to try and take us on in a more aggressive way; they’re doing it already.”
The president has characterized China as the biggest challenge the United States faces in seeking to overtake America’s position economically and militarily.
“I’ve made clear with President Xi that we seek competition, not conflict,” Biden said. “I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America strong. Investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future, and that China’s government is intent on dominating.”
political editor Chris Stirewalt said Biden’s comments indicate he’s aiming for a “détente” with China that he will be able to hang his hat on as a political achievement ahead of the 2024 election.
“He envisions a big future for himself … but I don’t think the American audience particularly wants to hear that,” Stirewalt said.
The Hill contributed to this report.