Joe Biden pressed Chinese leader Xi Jinping over human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang late Wednesday in their first call since the new US president took office on January 20, according to the White House.

Setting the stage for what could be a contentious relationship between the two superpowers, Biden offered Xi his “greetings and well wishes” for the Chinese people on the occasion of the Lunar New Year celebrations, the White House said in a statement.

Joe Biden. Photo: Joe Biden via Flickr.

But, establishing his own foundations for Washington-Beijing ties after four tumultuous years under predecessor Donald Trump, Biden immediately challenged his counterpart over China’s projection of power in the Indo-Pacific region, the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and the oppressive treatment of millions of Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region.

In the call Biden told Xi that his priorities were to protect the American people’s security, prosperity, health and way of life, and to preserve “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the White House said in a statement on the call.

Xi Jinping. File photo: RwandanGov. via Flickr.

Specifically, Biden “underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan,” it said.

The two leaders also spoke about the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and weapons proliferation.

“Biden committed to pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements when it advances the interests of the American people and those of our allies,” the White House said.

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