Joe Biden said Saturday the threat posed by China is one the United States is well-equipped to confront, as he pushed back on criticism from Republicans who saw him as minimizing the Asian nation's power.
In an interview with NBC affiliate WIS-TV in South Carolina, the former vice president laughed at the suggestion he didn't understand China's economic and military might.
"I never said China's not a threat. I said we can, if we invest the right way, we can defeat China in every way," Biden said. "I'm the guy that told the Chinese that when they set up these air defense zones, we're not going to pay attention. We're gonna fly right through them … China understands that our problems are negligible compared to what they have to face."
Sen. Mitt Romney was among the first Republicans to call out Biden for remarks he made during campaign stops earlier this week in Iowa, in which he said China was "not competition for us."
"This will not age well," Romney tweeted.
President Donald Trump also called the comments "naive" in an interview with Fox News Channel.
"If Biden actually said that, that's a very dumb statement," he said.
Biden played a key role in the Obama administration's relations with China, traveling there in 2011 for the first of a series of meetings with Xi Jinping, then China's vice president, in the lead-up to his elevation to the presidency.
Biden has for more than a year ended his campaign events by talking about a one-on-one dinner with Xi that year, when he explained to the Chinese leader that America's secret to success was its endless sense of "possibility."
Biden said Saturday that China is a military threat, which is why it was so important the United States maintained its traditional alliances.
"We're breaking up NATO and putting our arms around Putin," he said.
Asked after his Columbia rally about Trump's call Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden offered a curt response: "Who knows what he said."