U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States faces serious challenges around the world, but in the past two years, democracies have become stronger while autocracies have grown weaker.
In outlining his foreign policy accomplishments and challenges in his State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday evening, the president struck an optimistic and defiant tone, focusing his remarks on China's Communist Party and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Days after a Chinese surveillance balloon drifted across American airspace, leading to the cancellation of a high-profile trip to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Biden outlined where he sees the relationship with Beijing now.
The president said he remains open to working with China, "where it can advance American interests and benefit the world."
"But make no mistake about it," he said. "As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country, and we did."
Some Republicans criticized Biden for not ordering the balloon shot down earlier as it traversed the country. They may still be looking for Biden to publicly take a tougher stance on China, Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center told VOA.
"So, he was not taking a forceful, hawkish position. He was leaving open some space for conciliation, and I really don't think those members of Congress that wanted a more hard-line stance would have been satisfied with what he said tonight."
Biden argued that his administration had changed the narrative about how "the People's Republic of China is increasing its power and America was failing in the world."
"Not anymore. We made clear and I made clear in my personal conversations which have been many with President Xi that we seek competition, not conflict."
The president highlighted how his economic policies are aimed at investing in American industry and technologies of the future, the same ones that China's government he said, "is intent on dominating."
Biden also promoted his administration's policies that are increasing trade restrictions on some high-tech equipment, saying those policies are aimed at ensuring advanced technologies "are not used against us."
Russian Invasion of Ukraine Was 'Test'
Referencing his State of the Union speech a year ago, which occurred days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden called Putin's invasion a test for America that showed it would stand for the defense of democracy.
"Such a defense matters to us because it keeps the peace and prevents open season for would-be aggressors to threaten our security and prosperity," he said.
Some Republicans have been skeptical of military aid to Ukraine, but that was not the case when Republicans in the chamber, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, appeared to strongly support Biden's remarks.
"I have to say, I saw a lot more support coming from the Republican side of the aisle when he was speaking about Ukraine, particularly at the moment when he said, 'we are in it as long as it takes,'" Elizabeth Shackelford of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs told VOA.
"This is something that we have heard the Republican Party push back on specifically, saying that there wasn't a blank check for Ukraine," she added.
Late last year, Congress passed a spending bill that included $45 billion for Ukraine and NATO allies, which many House Republicans, including Speaker McCarthy, opposed.
President Biden did not mention Iran or Afghanistan in his remarks. Republicans have criticized his administration's policies for trying to revive a nuclear deal with Tehran, as well as what they argued was a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.