Chinese media outlets praised President Joe Biden on Wednesday for what they characterized as a respectful, “positive” call between the head of state and Chinese dictator Xi Jinping.
The Xinhua news agency and the Global Times state propaganda newspaper both highlighted the timing – on the eve of the Lunar New Year – as a gesture of goodwill from the new presidential administration. The former expressed hope that, after President Donald Trump’s tenure featured policies designed to contain the influence of the Chinese Communist Party abroad and frequent condemnations of its human rights atrocities, America under Biden would return to the “right track” of policy favorable to Beijing.
Chinese media coverage of the phone call, the first between the two since Biden became president, contrasted considerably with American mainstream media claims that Biden had “pressured” Xi on issues such as the genocide of the Uyghur people in western Xinjiang or the repression of political dissidents in Hong Kong.
“The Spring Festival is a very important holiday for the Chinese,” Xinhua’s coverage noted. “The telephone conversation between the two heads of state on the eve of the Lunar New Year marks a new starting point for direct communication, symbolizes goodwill, and conforms to the expectations of the Chinese and Americans, as well as those of the wider global community.”
“Biden said Washington is prepared to have candid and constructive dialogue with China in the spirit of mutual respect and to improve mutual understanding and avoid miscommunication and miscalculation,” Xinhua detailed. “Those agreements bear positive significance for Beijing and Washington to dispel misunderstandings and engage in normal dialogue.”
“With the inauguration of the Biden administration, returning the China-U.S. relationship to the right track has become a common aspiration of the international community,” the state news agency concluded.
The Global Times in its coverage applauded Biden for a gesture that it noted “showed respect for President Xi and China.” The newspaper continued:
The White House release also said at the beginning that Biden shared his greetings and well wishes with the Chinese people on the occasion of the Lunar New Year. This was widely interpreted as a gesture that Biden showed respect for President Xi and China. It seems that he was using such goodwill to balance the tough messages the new U.S. administration sent in recent days and various interpretations on those messages.
An article citing its usual stable of Communist Party “experts” also emphasized Biden’s alleged “goodwill towards the Chinese government.” While noting that the White House claimed Biden discussed human rights issues with Xi, the Global Times‘ experts did not consider this a threat to the regime, or an indication that it should change its behavior in any way. Biden, they argued, had no choice but to follow “U.S. leaders’ old track of pressuring China, but unlike his predecessor, Biden is willing to bring those divergences under control through dialogue, instead of unilaterally slapping sanctions on China.”
The newspaper also celebrated reports that Biden had undone recent policies implemented under Trump that limited the infiltration of the American academic system by the Communist Party’s “Confucius Institutes.” The Chinese Communist Party promotes Confucius Institutes within foreign universities, claiming they provide services to students like Mandarin language and Chinese cultural studies.
In reality, Trump administration officials repeatedly highlighted them as foreign influence operations used to promote the Communist Party’s interests by imposing its agenda on universities. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the institutes of recruiting spies for China and distorting the educational initiatives at the places that welcomed them. To that end, the State Department actively encouraged schools not to partner with them.
This week, reports surfaced that Biden had withdrawn the Trump’s administrations proposed rule changes to prevent the expansion of Chinese influence through Confucius Institutes, something the Global Times praised.
The newspaper’s editor, Hu Xijin, published his own remarks on the phone call, against applauding Biden for the “goodwill and respect” offered to Xi Jinping. Hu remarked:
Biden and Xi are also very familiar with each other. It is no secret that there are some strategic divergences between China and the U.S. Both countries need to face up to and manage these differences. The significance of the phone call today not only lies in that it has further promoted the personal communication between the two leaders, but also provided a sense of ritual to China-US relations and expresses mutual respect.
Mainstream American outlets did not convey in their coverage of the call a sense that Biden had been overly effusive in sharing goodwill or “respect,” as their Chinese counterparts did. The New York Times painted the call as aggressive, leading with the claim that Biden raised “concerns about Beijing’s aggressive policies abroad and human rights abuses at home,” which Chinese outlets largely disregarded. The newspaper nonetheless noted that Biden has “said that he believed he had spent more time with Mr. Xi than he has with any other world leader.”
CNN similarly claimed that Biden “call[ed] China out on a range of issues related to its nefarious use of technology, unfair trade and human rights abuses,” citing unidentified sources within the Biden administration.
NBC News, citing the White House, also led its coverage with an emphasis on Biden mentioning the existence of human rights problems in China.