APEC: Biden touts progress smoothing trade, China relations at San Francisco summit

SAN FRANCISCO — President Joe Biden affirmed the United States’ role as a “Pacific nation” Thursday, committing to providing stability and economic opportunity across the region and to working cooperatively with rival power China.

“You can count on the United States,” Biden told a gathering of corporate executives and world leaders at Moscone Center for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation 2023 forum. “We’re delivering on our promises, and we’re doubling down on our progress. And we’ll soon be your strong and steady partner as we continue working together to realize an Asia Pacific region that’s free and open, prosperous and secure, resilient and connected.”

The speech — a day after Biden met for four hours on the Peninsula with Chinese President Xi Jinping and later in a news conference called the Chinese leader “a dictator” — was an opportunity for the president to trumpet economic and diplomatic progress in the region while pushing Democratic priorities for organized labor and climate pollution controls.

The president, who is seeking a second term next year, was looking to send a clear message about American leadership to business leaders fearing instability from wars in the Middle East and Europe and facing an uncertain post-pandemic economy.

The APEC summit — hosted in the U.S. for the first time since 2011 — continued to draw protests Thursday, including one that shut down traffic on the Bay Bridge in the morning. The president was scheduled to host an APEC lunch and dinner after his morning speech. On Friday, he is to meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, then host the APEC leaders for a retreat before leaving for Philadelphia.

In his speech Thursday, Biden took a shot at the “trickle down” economic policies his Republican opponents have championed since the Reagan administration in the 1980s. He drew applause when declaring how his policies are “building an economy from the middle out and the bottom up” and are “already delivering results” with the U.S. economy growing 4.9% last quarter, the most in two years.

Biden also spoke of his meeting at the Filoli estate and gardens in Woodside with Xi, whom he has known since the two served as vice presidents but met in person this week for only the second time during his presidency. Biden said he told Xi the U.S. is a “Pacific nation” and that “because of us, there’s been peace and security in the region allowing you to grow.”

“He didn’t disagree,” Biden said. “I thought it was a very good, straightforward meeting.”

The U.S.-China relationship has frosted in recent years over a variety of issues, from concerns about technology theft, spying, the communist country’s treatment of dissidents and Chinese threats to U.S. ally Taiwan. But Biden drew applause when he announced the “resumption of military-to-military communication channels to reduce the risk of accidental miscalculation that exists.”

“I again emphasized with President Xi that the United States does not seek conflict,” Biden said. “This is not all kumbaya. But it’s straightforward. We have real differences with Beijing when it comes to maintaining a fair and level economic playing field and protecting your intellectual property. We’re going to continue to address them with smart policies and strong diplomacy. … Let me be clear: We are de-risking and diversifying our economic relationship with the PRC, not decoupling.”

Biden added that “where it makes sense to work together, we’ve committed to work together.” He said he and Xi had productive discussions about climate pollution curbs, artificial intelligence and counter-narcotics measures to control the flow of dangerous opioid fentanyl that has led to deadly addictions across the U.S.

“A stable relationship between the world’s two largest economies is not merely good for the two economies but for the world,” Biden said to applause. “Stable relationships are good for everyone.”

The White House said that U.S. companies represented at the APEC CEO Summit announced more than $50 billion of investments into APEC country economies in 2023. That includes nearly $25 billion to increase digital connectivity in the region with new subsea cables across the Pacific and within APEC countries.

Biden was more optimistic about the economy than Xi, telling the crowd that U.S. inflation is lower than in other advanced economies while median household wealth has grown nearly 40% since the pandemic. But he acknowledged that “there’s a disconnect between the numbers and how people feel about their place in the world right now.”