Biden to be ‘hardheaded’ with China’s Xi, but wants to keep line open, U.S. official says

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., February 10, 2021. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden will be “practical, hard-headed and clear-eyed” in dealings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but wants the opportunity to have an open line of communication despite U.S. concerns about China’s behavior, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

The official made the comments in a briefing with reporters ahead of the first phone call between Biden and Xi. read more

The call comes at a time when the United States was in a position of strength, after consultations with allies and partners, to lay out core concerns about China's "aggressive activities and abuses," the official said.

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But he added that Biden's agenda for the call did not include the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, despite mounting calls for the Games to be moved over China's human rights record and Washington's determination that the Chinese government was engaged in genocide in its western Xinjiang region. read more

"There is urgency and we are acting urgently. But ... we need to play the long game," the official said, noting investment in U.S. industrial and scientific competitiveness were needed to compete with China.

Despite former President Donald Trump's warnings about reducing U.S. troop numbers in Asia, it was unlikely the U.S. would shrink its military presence in the region under Biden, the official said.

U.S. freedom of navigation operations since Biden became president "make clear that we do not accept unlawful or illegitimate claims to territory in the South China Sea," he said, referring to recent U.S. warships exercises there. read more

A second senior official said Washington believed after consultations with allies and partners in the region that they were looking for "steadiness" from the United States after the unpredictability of the Trump administration.

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Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina, Michelle Price; editing by Shri Navaratnam and Grant McCool

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