It didn’t take long.
Within hours of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, his foreign policy team began grappling with one of the government’s greatest challenges: China.
The US described a series of sanctions China imposed on outgoing Donald Trump officials as “unproductive and cynical” as the inauguration took place.
“The inauguration of these sanctions appears to be an attempt to fight the partisan rift,” Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for President Biden’s National Security Council, told Reuters on Wednesday. “President Biden looks forward to working with leaders from both parties to position America to outperform China.”
China responded by criticizing the outgoing government, calling for healing and better relations between the two countries – even using a line from Biden’s inaugural address.
“I believe that if the two countries work together, better angels could defeat evil forces in US-China relations,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a press conference Thursday.
In his speech on Wednesday, Biden emphasized the need for unity in order to triumph over the division: “Our better angels have always prevailed through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks.”
The rhetorical exchange follows four years of deteriorating US-China relations, with Trump and members of his team accusing China of the Covid-19 pandemic, using racist terms to describe the virus, and Beijing’s treatment of protesters in Hong Kong and his own criticize Uighur Muslim minority.
During this period, countries – the world’s two largest economies – also got into a harmful trade war.
Download the NBC News App for breaking news and politics
Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington was present Biden’s inauguration with an official invitationA first that could indicate that the new president will continue Trump’s increased support for the self-governing island that Beijing claims as part of China.
Although Biden’s team has signaled that it will continue to put pressure on Beijing, it is widely expected to take a more traditional, diplomatic, and multilateral approach than Trump’s.
China on Wednesday imposed sanctions on 28 Trump officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro and Alex Azar, the secretary for health and human services. The measures prohibit travel to Hong Kong, Macau or mainland China and, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.
In his final weeks in office, Pompeo unleashed a spate of measures against China, saying on Tuesday that Beijing had committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” against its Uighur Muslim population.
China has Repeatedly rejected allegations for abuse in the Xinjiang region, where at least 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims have been detained in camps, according to the United Nations.
Biden’s decision to follow Pompeo, Antony Blinken, said Tuesday he agreed with Pompeo’s assessment. He told his Senate confirmation hearing that there was “no doubt” that China was the greatest challenge facing the United States as a nation.
Reuters contributed to this report.