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Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images  

The new administration's first few moves and statements on China suggest that President Biden may continue some of the Trump era's most assertive policies.

Why it matters: China's severe domestic repression, its dramatic rise as a technological superpower, and its increasingly aggressive actions around the globe mean that the world expects the American president to take action.

What they're saying: "Strategic competition with China is a defining feature of the 21st century. China is engaged in conduct that hurts American workers, blunts our technological edge, and threatens our alliances and our influence in international organizations," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday.

  • "What we've seen over the last few years is that China is growing more authoritarian at home and more assertive abroad. And Beijing is now challenging our security, prosperity, and values in significant ways that require a new U.S. approach."

Between the lines: The White House rhetoric on China so far is remarkably similar to the Trump administration's.

  • In addition to the emphasis on "strategic competition," Psaki also mentioned "China's economic abuses," its influence over international organizations, its forced technology transfers, and "holding China accountable" — all issues Trump administration officials repeatedly highlighted in their public remarks.
  • Yes, but: One major difference from Trump-era rhetoric is Biden's strong emphasis on multilateralism. In her remarks on Monday, Psaki answered almost every China question with a reference to America's "allies and partners."

Here's a closer look at some of the actions and statements from the Biden administration so far:

Taiwan: Bi-khim Hsiao, the de facto Taiwanese ambassador to the U.S., attended Biden's inauguration after receiving a formal invitation — the first time since 1979 that the Taiwanese representative has attended a presidential inauguration.

  • The unprecedented move suggests the Biden administration may uphold the Trump administration's Jan. 9 lifting of all self-imposed bureaucratic restrictions on the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.
  • Hsiao's attendance "reflects the consideration of the new administration to treat Taiwan’s de facto diplomatic mission here in the United States with more dignity and respect than previously afforded to them by excessively proscriptive protocols," said Russell Hsiao, executive director of the DC-based Global Taiwan Institute, told Axios.
  • On Jan. 23, the State Department also issued a statement affirming "rock-solid" support for Taiwan and expressing "concern" after China sent several bombers and jet planes into Taiwan's airspace late last week.

Defense: New Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has come out swinging on China.

  • "China presents the most significant threat going forward because China is ascending," Austin said during his Senate confirmation hearing last week.
  • He also said the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which the Trump administration published and which presents China and Russia as serious threats, is for the most part "absolutely on track for today’s challenges."

Tech: Austin said the U.S. needs a stronger response to China's growing ascendance in AI and other emerging technologies, and Psaki said that "technology is at the center of the U.S.-China competition."

  • What to watch: Without offering specifics, Psaki suggested Biden might keep Huawei and several other Chinese companies on the export blacklist, or adopt similar measures: "We need to play a better defense, which must include holding China accountable and making sure that American technologies aren't facilitating China's military build-up."

Multilateral institutions: Biden halted the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization, scheduled to occur on July 6. Trump had announced the withdrawal last year after citing Beijing's influence over the organization during the pandemic.

Trade: The Biden administration may be moving away from negotiating access to Chinese markets for big American financial and pharmaceutical companies, and instead focusing on trade policies that help workers more directly, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • “The point of further trade negotiation isn’t to make the world safe for multinational corporation investment,” Biden's national security advisor Jake Sullivan said. “It’s about jobs and wages.”
  • On Monday, Biden also signed an executive order to strengthen the federal government's Buy American guidelines, which are aimed at supporting domestic manufacturing. Trump had issued a similar order, but loopholes persisted. Chinese manufacturers are often direct competitors to U.S. companies.
  • What to watch: It's still unclear how Biden will deal with the billions of dollars in tariffs that remain after the Phase One trade deal was signed, though Psaki said Biden "will take a multilateral approach to engaging with China and that includes evaluating the tariffs currently in place."

The bottom line: When it comes to China, Biden seems unlikely to adopt the open-armed engagement policies of the Obama years. But it's still too early to tell exactly how tough he'll be.

Go deeper

Scoop: Top Trump Homeland Security officials join Heritage

Former DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan, three of former President Trump's biggest immigration policy defenders, will join the Heritage Foundation on Monday as fellows, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: All three former Homeland Security officials consistently backed Trump and were key in implementing his strict immigration agenda. Now, they will continue to shape conservative policy ideas on national security and foreign policy from the outside.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations were "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 4 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.