China extended its first congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden on Friday, issuing a terse statement that contrasted with a fulsome and swift message from the country's leader after President Donald Trump won four years ago.
"We respect the choice of the American people and we extend our congratulations to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris," said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, during a daily press briefing reported in state media.
China was one of the last major countries to officially acknowledge that Biden became president-elect on Saturday. While Biden now counts with 290 electoral votes compared to Trump's 217, the president has yet to concede the election, baselessly claiming that voter fraud occurred.
Giving no explanation for China's delay, Wang said, "We understand the result of the U.S. election will be determined in accordance with U.S. laws and procedures."
President Xi Jinping congratulated Trump on Nov. 9, 2016 — within a day of Trump being declared the winner.
"I attach great importance to Sino-U.S. relations and look forward to working with you," the state-owned Xinhua news agency reported Xi saying at the time.
Leaders from the U.S.'s traditional allies rushed to congratulate Biden on Saturday, welcoming a new era of American leadership in world affairs after four years of the convention-smashing Trump.
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Biden has already begun a series of calls this week with foreign leaders, including South Korea's President Moon Jae-In and Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
In addition to China, there has been a noticeable delay in congratulations from Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, whose leaders have enjoyed closer ties with Trump's White House. Russia and Brazil's leaders have yet to issue messages of congratulations.
Before the election, China said it did not wish to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries.
Relations between China and the U.S. have grown increasingly strained, with the world's two largest economies mired in lengthy trade tensions, which lately took in tech companies Huawei and TikTok.
But while Trump's rhetoric toward China has turned sour, Biden has also appeared ready to take a tough line, having previously referred to Xi as a "thug."
Issues around the coronavirus pandemic, arms sales to Taiwan, territorial claims in the South China Sea and Beijing's growing international assertiveness, will likely continue to be on the agenda for in-coming Biden.
Analysts expect a Biden presidency to focus on human rights abuses of Uighurs, a Muslim minority in China's Xinjiang region and Hong Kong's waning autonomy and return America to a path of multilateralism.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.