President Joe Biden’s plans to boost the U.S. economy will help the country compete with China’s massive Belt and Road initiative, former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said on Wednesday.

The Belt and Road Initiative is China’s ambitious program to build physical and digital infrastructure connecting hundreds of countries from Asia to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Many critics believe that the signing of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy is to expand his country’s global influence.

Lew, who was Treasury Secretary under former President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017, pointed out that China’s Belt and Road Initiative had grown in importance in recent years. At the same time, the United States withdrew from the world stage under former President Donald Trump, he said.

President Joe Biden speaks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

Leigh Vogel | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“The challenge is to look at our national challenges and look at the places where we are very strong and should be stronger,” Lew told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia”. He added that the US is strong in technology and innovation, education, and open to talent from all over the world.

“We then look ahead to the challenges of the future … we have to get involved in the world, we have to get involved and work with other countries. And you can’t say that we won’t be there and then object.” when someone else shows up, “said Lew.

Lew’s comments came as Biden held meetings with Democratic and Republican Congressmen to discuss his proposed $ 2 trillion infrastructure and economic recovery package.

The plan aims to rebuild US infrastructure including roads, broadband and utilities, and invest in job training and research and development.

USA and China work together

US-China relations have remained rocky since Biden’s inauguration in January.

The two countries have argued on issues ranging from Hong Kong’s autonomy to alleged human rights abuses in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.

Despite their differences, Lew said there are many areas in which the US and China can work together. These areas include climate change, health care and challenges with Iran and North Korea, said the former finance minister.

“I think it is a mistake to be on a path where both sides are looking for confrontation. It is a mistake to deny that there is difference and there is a need to be committed to making differences clear, but also to look for areas in which we can work together. ” “Said Lew.

“I hope that things like the talks about the climate will be the beginning of an opening for discussion between our two countries,” he added.

Chinese state media said Wednesday that Xi will give a video conference speech on Thursday at Biden’s climate summit of world leaders.

Many also expect the leaders of the world’s two largest economies – and the biggest carbon polluters – to have their first meeting on the sidelines of the summit.

– CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk and Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.