U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks towards China during his commencement address at the Air Force Academy on May 28 have garnered a highly critical reception from the Chinese government and media. One statement by the Vice President called into question China’s creative competitiveness and ability to revolutionize industries: “I challenge you, name me one innovative project, one innovative change, one innovative product that has come out of China.”
This is not the first time the Vice President has slammed China’s struggles with creating breakthrough products and technologies. In his December 2012 address at the US Embassy in Beijing, he told students that “innovation can only occur where you can breathe free.” These comments are also indirect jabs at China’s history of intellectual property theft, which largely targets American corporations.
In response to Biden’s comment, the state-run Global Times pointed out that the purpose of Biden’s criticism is to dispel fears of China’s economic strength. To refute Biden’s claim, other Chinese media outlets cited a CNN article, which claimed that innovation serves as a key driver of China’s economy and listed China’s growing innovative companies such as Xiaomi, Huawei, and Alibaba.
Another comment from the Vice President’s speech took direct aim at China’s human rights record: “President Xi [Jinping] asked me, why do we focus on human rights so much, in one of our long conversations. And I said, Mr. President, you don’t understand. Everyone who made their way to America in the first instance came because their human rights were not being totally valued… For a president to remain silent on abuse of human rights would be a denial of our American heritage.”
In another section of his address Biden did, however, strike a more conciliatory note, saying that he hoped China finds success in the future, and that such success would be built on mutual trust and cooperation with the U.S. While China’s economy is broadly predicted to overtake the U.S. as largest global economy, in terms of nominal gross domestic product, internally the country faces enormous challenges such as rapidly widening income inequality, corruption at all levels of government, and severe pollution nationwide. Biden’s comments dovetailed with statements in President Obama’s address to West Point graduates, which stated that the U.S. will be the world leader for the next century, which received decidedly more negative responses from Chinese media and officials.
Authors: Simon Wu and Sinkey Huang