The great power race between the US and China is on. And Beijing is confident of winning

When US President Joe Biden urged Americans to “win the 21st century” in his joint address to Congress, he painted a picture of a new great power competition with China and repeatedly name-checked its leader, Xi Jinping

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 28: U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (R) look on in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021, in Washington, DC. On the eve of his 100th day in office, Biden spoke about his plan to revive America???s economy and health as it continues to recover from a devastating pandemic. He delivered his speech before 200 invited lawmakers and other government officials instead of the normal 1600 guests because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

“He’s deadly earnest on (China) becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world,” Biden said of Xi. “He and others — autocrats — think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies.”

“The autocrats will not win the future,” he vowed later. “America will.”

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But in Beijing, Biden’s fighting words have barely made a ripple, at least on the surface.
Responding to a question about Biden’s speech, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said the US was merely feeling insecure and jealous about China’s development.

“While China devotes itself to improving people’s lives, some in the US habitually target China every time they speak,” Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing. “This is in nature out of Cold War thinking, a zero-sum mindset and ideological bias — and a sign of lack of self-confidence.”

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“We hope the US can discard this ‘sour grapes’ mentality towards China, and treat China’s development with a more peaceful and rational mind,” he added.

Biden’s comments, and Beijing’s reaction to that speech, speak to a role reversal between the two nations: the US used to set moral, economic, and political benchmarks for other countries. But as China becomes an increasingly confident world player, Washington is beginning to measure itself against Beijing in many ways, from the development of advanced technologies to geopolitical influence.

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The Chinese Communist Party has in recent years grown increasingly confident that China is on an ascendent trajectory and will one day surpass its Western rivals. That view received a boost during the Trump presidency. Despite his tough rhetoric on China, many Chinese nationalists hold the view that by withdrawing the US from global leadership and sowing political and social divisions at home, Trump gave

China an opportunity to assert greater leadership in the world.

In June 2018, as the US and China began a lengthy trade war, Xi told a group of senior party, military, and foreign affairs officials that China had entered the “best time for development since modern times,” while the world is undergoing “changes unseen in a hundred years.”

“The East is rising, and the West is declining,” he concluded — a message that has since been repeatedly pounded in the Party at various meetings and political studying sessions.

China’s President Xi Jinping applauds after the result of the vote on changes to Hong Kong’s election system was announced during the closing session of the National Peoples Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11, 2021. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP) (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)
Officially, Beijing has repeatedly said China focuses on its own development and is not interested in promoting its political system or development model. But to party elites, international recognition of China’s ideological and political systems has always been important — and with the Communist Party’s centenary on July 1 that is only more acute.   
For many, the Covid-19 pandemic was further vindication of Beijing’s rise. China’s ability to swiftly contain the outbreak — despite an initial mishandling — has been touted as vivid proof of the superiority of its authoritarian political system, with the faltering response of Western governments cast as fatal weakness of democracies. As the world’s major economies plunged into recession, China roared back into economic growth.
In his own address to senior Chinese officials in January, Xi said China now held the advantage. “Time and the current trend of events are on our side,” he said. “This is where our composure, determination, and confidence lie.”

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