Biden warns China over threats to US sovereignty in State of the Union address

President Joe Biden has warned that the US will protect itself if China threatens its sovereignty as he used a joint address to Congress to deliver a defiant message to Beijing and defend his economic record in the White House.

“I am committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” Biden said. “But make no mistake . . . if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country.”

The president’s comments during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night came as tensions between the US and China have flared up after the Pentagon detected a Chinese spy balloon flying over the US and shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean.

The episode led Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, to cancel a planned trip to China and dashed hopes of a detente between Washington and Beijing after Biden’s meeting with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, in November.

In an energetic oration met with cheers from Democrats and boos from Republicans, Biden also said his economic plans, with billions of dollars in subsidies for domestic manufacturing including semiconductors, were helping the US win the economic competition.

“I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America strong. Investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future, and that China’s government is intent on dominating,” Biden said.

“[We are] investing in our alliances and working with our allies to protect our advanced technologies so they’re not used against us. Modernising our military to safeguard stability and deter aggression,” he added.

Domestically, Biden said he is building an “economy where no one is left behind” that will deliver tangible benefits for “blue-collar” America. Twelve million jobs were created under his watch over the past two years, he said, in a bounceback from the damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

“My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten,” Biden said.

After November’s midterm elections, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, which will stymie Biden’s legislative ambitions and could lead to big clashes, particularly over raising the debt ceiling. But Democrats still have a majority in the Senate, meaning the president will be able to secure the confirmation of judicial nominations and executive appointments.

“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress,” Biden said.

He accused Republican lawmakers of wanting to “take the economy hostage” if Democrats do not capitulate to their demands for major spending cuts.

The House chamber erupted in jeers when Biden said some Republicans wanted to introduce drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare for senior citizens. After Republican lawmakers shouted “liar” and cheered in favour of protecting funding for the entitlement programmes, Biden deviated from his prepared remarks.

“I’ll stop them, I’ll veto it . . . Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. But apparently it’s not going to be a problem,” he said.

With the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine looming later this month, Biden said America was “united” in supporting Kyiv and claimed credit for building the global coalition that stood up to Vladimir Putin.

“We will stand with you as long as it takes,” he said, with Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, in the audience.

Biden touted his expansive subsidy scheme for clean energy, which could divert green investments from Europe to the US and has sparked rising tensions with the EU. “[It] is the most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis,” he said.

Republican leaders are unlikely to embrace Biden’s message of bipartisanship. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the governor of Arkansas and former White House press secretary, delivered the opposition party’s official rebuttal, accusing Democrats of being preoccupied by “woke fantasies”.

“In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country,” Sanders said.

The mixed results of the midterm elections boosted Biden’s standing within his party since he avoided the more sweeping defeats that typically hit presidents during their first term in office. Despite concerns about his age — Biden is 80 — he is widely expected to launch his 2024 campaign for re-election in the coming weeks.

The president’s approval ratings have bounced back in the past few months, but he remains unpopular. According to the polling average, 51.5 per cent of Americans disapprove of his job as president, while 44.2 per cent approve.