Biden's comments downplaying China threat to U.S. fire up pols on both sides

“China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” the former vice president said in Iowa, drawing the ire of lawmakers like Bernie Sanders and Mitt Romney.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday.Charlie Neibergall / AP

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By Adam Edelman

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Wednesday night that China was “not competition” for the U.S., prompting blowback from prominent members of both political parties.

At an event in Iowa City, Biden was explaining why he believes concerns that China could eventually surpass the U.S. as a world superpower and economic force are overstated.

“China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” the former vice president said.

“I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us,” he added.

Biden said that the problems facing China are far greater than those facing the United States and that he didn't know a “single solitary” world leader who would prefer to deal with China’s challenges over America’s.

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“They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean the west,” Biden said without elaborating further, in an apparent reference to the South China Sea. “They can’t figure out how they’re going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system."

China has the world’s second-largest economy, and many prominent figures in business, politics and academia have long expressed concern that the communist country’s rise makes it a serious competitor to the United States for global influence.

In an interview on Fox News' "Special Report," President Donald Trump said Biden "is being very naive about China."

"China, during the Obama years in particular, just took advantage of our country so badly. Very, very big competition, China. I've stopped it. And I am stopping it," Trump said.

Biden’s comments immediately drew the ire of top lawmakers from both political parties.

“This will not age well,” tweeted Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, referring to another tweet quoting Biden’s remarks. Romney, during his 2012 run, had called China a top “geopolitical foe” of the United States.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who polls show is currently Biden’s toughest competition for the Democratic presidential nomination, tweeted that “it’s wrong to pretend that China isn’t one of our major economic competitors.”

“When we are in the White House, we will win that competition by fixing our trade policies,” Sanders added.

Alabama Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne, who is running for the Senate, tweeted “Joe is plain wrong and "China is absolutely a threat."

Biden, for his part, has used similar lines about China in the past.

"I want China to succeed. The idea that they're going to eat our lunch? They don't have enough energy, they don't have enough water,” he said in 2017.