Biden’s ‘ticking time bomb’ remark referred to China’s economy: White House

US President Joe Biden’s comment about China being a “ticking time bomb” referred to internal economic and social tensions that could have an effect on how Beijing interacts with the world, a White House official has clarified.

Biden said at a political fundraiser on Thursday that China was “in trouble” and beset with economic and social problems.

“That’s not good because when bad folks have problems, they do bad things,” Biden said.

“China is a ticking time bomb,” he said.

“China was growing at 8 percent a year to maintain growth. Now, close to 2 percent a year,” Biden said, misstating the country’s growth rate.

Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics showed the Chinese economy grew 4.5 percent in the first quarter and 6.3 percent in the second, with the gross domestic product (GDP) up just 0.8 percent in April-June from the previous quarter after a 2.2 percent expansion in the first quarter.

Biden also said that he wanted a rational relationship with China.

White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that one area of US concern regarding China was “the way that they bully and coerce and intimidate countries around the world” by offering high-interest infrastructure loans and then seizing assets when countries defaulted.

Biden’s comments have drawn a sharp response from Beijing.

Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu warned Washington against “scapegoating” Beijing and fanning “division and confrontation”.

“We oppose the US side seeking to make an issue of China, smearing China or talking down China’s prospects,” he said in a statement to the Reuters news agency on Friday, without mentioning Biden by name.

Liu said China’s GDP growth continued to provide important support for the development of the global economy.

China’s state-run Global Times media outlet said that Biden made the “demeaning and smearing comments” to “distract the domestic audience” from issues in the US and to give his presidential campaign a boost.

Global Times quoted Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, as saying that most US presidential candidates will take aim at China during the 2024 presidential elections.

China would be a campaign target to “distract voters from ingrained US domestic problems such as abortion, guns and drugs”, Xin told Global Times.

The news outlet also said that despite recent high-level exchanges between US and Chinese officials, there had been no “real easing in bilateral relations” between Washington and Beijing.
“Since the US side is unlikely to change its foreign policy on issues such as the Taiwan question, the South China Sea and economy and trade, and especially the high-tech sector, it will be more aggressive toward China on these issues,” Global Times said, citing experts.

Kirby said the US – which also moved this week to limit outbound investment in certain Chinese sectors – had been consistent about pushing back against China’s behaviours.

“We’ve never shied away from calling it like we see it when it comes to [China’s] behaviour, intimidation and coercion of not only their neighbours but countries around the world,” he said.

“This is a difficult, complex bilateral relationship, the most consequential one in the world. The president understands that.

“But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a need to continue to improve our lines of communication.”

Kirby did not comment on whether Biden’s latest comments would scuttle plans for the US president to meet with President Xi Jinping later this year, possibly on the sidelines of next month’s Group of 20 leaders summit in India.