SAN FRANCISCO — President Joe Biden is pitching his economic policies to a domestic and foreign audience at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco, but he is facing pushback at home and abroad.
Biden’s approval ratings have been in a free fall, in part, because of so-called Bidenomics. But he is simultaneously under pressure to prevent the economy from entering a recession and reversing its overreliance on China while making diplomatic overtures to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Biden’s competing priorities were captured in his address Thursday to CEOs at APEC, in which he acknowledged the “disconnect” between his economic data and public sentiment.
“We can deal with the second part as well,” the president said during the APEC CEO Summit. “We still have work to do, but our model for growing is delivering real results for all Americans.”
But moments later during his 20-minute remarks, Biden was adamant that the United States is not “decoupling” its economy, the world’s largest, from China, the second largest. Instead, the U.S. is “de-risking” and “diversifying,” the president said. A day earlier, Xi criticized Biden’s “protectionist” approach to supply chains before the leaders’ first in-person meeting in a year and the second of Biden’s administration on the sidelines of APEC.
“The world at large, planet Earth, is big enough for the two countries to succeed, and one country’s success is an opportunity for the other,” Xi told Biden Wednesday through translators. “As long as they respect each other, coexistent [peacefully] and pursue winning cooperation, they will be fully capable of rising above differences and [finding] the right way for the two major countries to get along with each other.”
Biden’s problems convincing the public they are better off under Bidenomics than they were three years ago under former President Donald Trump‘s “MAGAnomics” has been well-documented by polls. His average overall approval is net negative 16 percentage points, 40.5% to 56.5%, according to RealClearPolitics. That is compared to his average economic approval, which is roughly net negative 22 points, 38% to 59.5%.
At the same time, the consumer price index remained the same last month, in contrast to September, although the annual inflation rate increased by 3.2%. Core inflation also rose 0.2% and 4%, respectively, but the annual rate was the smallest increase since September 2021.
Brookings Institution governance studies senior fellow Darrell West additionally underscored strong jobs and unemployment reports, though only 150,000 nonfarm jobs were added to the economy last month, and unemployment increased to 3.9%, the highest level since January 2022.
“Over the next few months, that will pay dividends to Biden,” West said. “It sometimes takes awhile for good news to sink in and lead people to believe their fortunes are improving.”
But since U.S.-China relations worsened, exacerbated, in part, by the pandemic, the U.S. has sought to extricate its supply chains from China, and both countries have introduced import-export restrictions on their counterpart. The International Monetary Fund last week raised its gross domestic product forecast for China to 5.4% for 2023, though it still predicts growth will slow to 4.6% in 2024 because of its weak property market and a decrease in “external demand.”
“Investing in China now is risky because of the geopolitical tensions,” West said. “A number of U.S. companies are pulling back until the global situation gets clarified. It could be years before [there] is clarity on that front.”
Regardless, Xi was the guest of honor at the APEC CEO Summit dinner Wednesday night, with executives such as Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser, Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadell paying $40,000 for eight-seat tables.
David Stilwell, a Trump State Department official, had hoped Biden’s message to CEOs at APEC would be that they “need to get out of China.”
“I didn’t hear a lot on trade [from the Biden-Xi meeting], which is good,” the former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs said. “We cannot ride to the rescue of the Chinese Communist Party again. They have killed the goose, the economic goose laying golden eggs in their country, not letting market forces do their thing to overcontrol. The last thing we want to do is save them from themselves.
“Why did we even allow Xi Jinping to hold this dinner when our ambassador in China, Nick Burns, has, by his own admission, reluctantly finally admitted, has absolutely zero access to the Chinese people?” he continued. “The bargain I would have driven on this one is you can have your CEO dinner just as soon as Nick Burns makes a public speech that’s uncensored to the Chinese people in the same way Xia Fong, your ambassador to the U.S., addresses the American people.”
Republicans, from the top House Republican concerning foreign policy to the Republican National Committee, have scrutinized Biden’s stances on the economy and China. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), for instance, cited Biden spending taxpayer money on a four-hour “fruitless” meeting.
“Having these senior level meetings without getting anything in return and without having any desired outcomes sets a horrible precedent and makes the United States look incredibly weak,” he wrote in a statement. “The Biden administration made concessions to get this meeting — only to make more concessions — including the removal of an organization from the entity list known to conduct human rights abuses.”