Biden administration indicates in no hurry to engage China

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WASHINGTON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The Biden administration indicated on Tuesday it is in no hurry to engage with China, a strategic rival it has vowed to out-compete, and said it and would do so once it was in "lockstep" with allies and partners.

President Joe Biden has spoken to many world leaders since taking office on Jan. 20, but has yet to speak to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, and White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a briefing she could not say when a call might take place.

Psaki said that with Antony Blinken in place as U.S. secretary of state, "there are additional layers to engage with the Chinese," but both she and State Department spokesman Ned Price said speaking to allies and partners came first.

Price told a briefing there were issues, including climate change, "in which it is our national interest to cooperate on a limited basis with China."

He said U.S. alliances and partnerships were a "force multiplier across any range of challenges, and that includes in our relationship with Beijing.

"So, as a first step we want to make sure that we are in lockstep with those allies, in lockstep with those partners, and then ... you can expect that there will be engagement in several areas with China."

Xi congratulated Biden on his election, even though Biden called him a "thug" during the campaign and vowed to lead an international effort to "pressure, isolate and punish China."

Psaki declined to say whether China had requested a call with Biden.

The Biden administration has not fully articulated its strategy towards China, the world's second largest economy, but has indicated it will broadly continue the tough approach taken by former President Donald Trump.

It has vowed to "out-compete" Beijing and endorsed a last-minute Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide against Muslims in Xinjiang, while also stressing the hope to cooperate on policy priorities like climate change. read more .

Blinken last week called the U.S.-China relationship arguably the most important Washington has in the world read more , while Psaki told the briefing: "Of course, the relationship with China is going to be multi-layered, we'll deal with climate, we'll deal with the economy, we'll deal with security."

China's top diplomat called on Tuesday for U.S.-China relations to be put back on a predictable and constructive path, while saying Washington should respect Beijing's position on Taiwan and stop meddling in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang. read more

Asked about the comments, Price said China should "cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan, and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected leadership."

Separately, Price said Washington was "deeply concerned" by China's attempts to disbar and harass lawyers representing 12 Hong Kong people convicted after trying to flee to Taiwan by boat. read more

"We urge Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law and to reinstate their legal credentials at once," he said in a tweet.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay Editing by Chris Reese

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