Biden in call with China’s Xi raises human rights, trade

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President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with lawmakers on investments in infrastructure, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Joe Biden had his first call as president with Xi Jinping, a two-hour conversation in which he pressed the Chinese leader about trade and Beijing’s crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong as well as other human rights concerns.

The two leaders spoke Wednesday just hours after Biden announced plans for a Pentagon task force to review U.S. national security strategy in China and after the new U.S. president announced he was levying sanctions against Myanmar's military regime following this month's coup in the Southeast Asian country.

A White House statement said Biden raised concerns about Beijing’s “coercive and unfair economic practices." Biden also pressed Xi on Hong Kong, human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province, and its actions toward Taiwan.

Biden in an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday described his talk with Xi as a good conversation.

The president, however, expressed concern that Beijing will build an advantage as economic competitor if the U.S. doesn't move quickly to bolster the nation's infrastructure, including highways, bridges and public transportation.

“We don’t get moving, they’re going to eat our lunch," Biden said at the start of a meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

China’s state broadcaster CCTV struck a mostly positive tone about the conversation, saying Xi acknowledged the two sides had their differences, and those differences should be managed, but urged overall cooperation.

CCTV said Xi pushed back against Biden’s concerns on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, saying the issues are China’s internal affairs and concern Chinese sovereignty. He warned, “The U.S. should respect China’s core interests and act with caution.”