• Joe Biden on Wednesday painted a dire picture of China’s economy to US steelworkers.
  • Calling China “xenophobic,” Biden unleashed some of his harshest comments ever about Beijing.
  • Bashing China fits well into Biden’s new election cadence of hyping up the US economy as a lasting, dominant force.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday pitched his version of US-China relations to steelworkers in Pennsylvania — that Beijing isn’t only failing to catch up, but struggling on its own.

As he spoke at the US Steelworkers union headquarters in Pittsburgh, the president’s hyperbolic rhetoric sounded almost Trump-esque.

"They've got a population that is more people in retirement than working," Biden said of China. "They're not importing anything. They're xenophobic. Nobody else coming in. They've got real problems."

Those were some of the harshest comments Biden has ever made about China, though it's unclear how the president calculated his retirement figures. China fields a labor force of about 780 million, or more than half its 1.4 billion population, with urban unemployment reportedly at around 5%. But the country is indeed aging rapidly and bound for an imbalanced population, with around 300 million people expected to retire in the next 10 years and fewer births than deaths.

Biden, running for his second term in the White House, has reason to amp up the anti-China talk even as Washington and Beijing try to cool tensions this year. He and his opponent, former President Donald Trump, have long campaigned on being tough on Beijing, and Trump has been pledging major tariffs on foreign goods.

Instead of posturing himself a Mr. Fix-It, or a lone warrior fighting the good fight against a strong Beijing, Biden on Wednesday told blue-collar workers that the competition, as it stands, already favors America by a landslide.

His message in Pittsburgh was clear — China is in trouble. He told the steelworkers that he often asked world leaders if they would "trade places" with China and its problems.

"Trump simply doesn't get it," he said. "For years I've heard many of my Republican, even Democratic friends say that China is on the rise and America has been falling behind."

"I've always believed we got it all wrong," Biden added. "America is rising, we have the best economy in the world."

Boasting that the US economy is robust has been a key pillar of Biden's reelection campaign, as his Republican opponents claimed throughout his term that the US economy struggled under him.

There's another rhetorical implication to Biden jeering at China's problems. By playing up America's position and downplaying China's, Biden shied away from a common narrative that a rising China will clash, or even go to war with the US as the former catches up.

"I want fair competition with China, not conflict, and we're in a stronger position to win the economic competition of the 21st century against China or anyone else," Biden said.

Meanwhile, he announced the tripling of a 7.5% tariff on Chinese steel and aluminum. China, powered by state funds, has been producing large quantities of steel and selling it on the US market for cheap, which Biden called "cheating."

China's Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside regular business hours by Business Insider.

The president also pledged to block the $14.9 billion sale of US Steel to the Japanese Nippon Steel, once again hammering home the upsides of investing in an already powerful American economy.

"American-owned, American-operated by American union steelworkers, the best in the world," Biden said.

The metals industry provides more than 120,000 jobs in Pennsylvania and some $33 billion in economic output, per an April 2023 report published by the Pennsylvania Steel Alliance.

Pennsylvania, a vital swing state for the 2024 election, voted for Biden by a 1.2% margin in 2020.