An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly referred to the Xinjiang region of China as a province. This version has been updated.

THE SHARP exchange that initiated the Biden administration’s first high-level talks with China last week jarred some nerves in Washington. After Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the regime of Xi Jinping as a “threat to global stability” and criticized its repression in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, China’s Yang Jiechi responded with a 17-minute tirade that, among other things, advised the United States to “stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world.” Some on both the Democratic left and the Trumpist right seem to agree with him: They’ve counseled the new administration to stop calling Beijing out on human rights and focus on more pragmatic interests.

In fact, Mr. Blinken’s speech and other tough opening moves by the Biden team were exactly the reset that was needed after the Trump administration’s confused and often contradictory treatment of China. As president, Donald Trump repeatedly heaped public praise on Mr. Xi and, in private meetings, reportedly encouraged his repression in Hong Kong and Xinjiang; President Biden bluntly told the dictator in their first phone call that Mr. Xi was wrong to believe in American decline. The day before last week’s discussions in Anchorage, the administration sanctioned two dozen officials involved in the Hong Kong repression. And in an impressive joint action, the United States on Monday joined Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in adopting new sanctions, in parallel with the European Union, against those involved in the genocidal campaign against Xinjiang’s ethnic Uyghurs.

The administration has made clear that its strong opposition to China’s human rights abuses and belligerence toward Taiwan and other neighbors does not preclude cooperation on matters of mutual interest. Just as President Ronald Reagan lambasted the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” while striking landmark arms control agreements, Mr. Biden is looking for common ground with Mr. Xi on climate change, the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, and a peace settlement in Afghanistan. A senior administration official told The Post’s John Hudson that after the rhetorical fireworks, the two sides “immediately got down to business” and had “substantive, serious and direct discussions.”

Some observers dismissed the rhetoric on both sides as posturing for domestic audiences. But it is more important than that. China and the United States lead opposing camps in a global contest over the future of human governance. Mr. Xi wants to convince the world that “the East is rising, while the West is in decline,” and that China’s high-tech authoritarianism is the best model for the 21st century. Mr. Biden is rightly determined to show that democracy, with its emphasis on individual freedom, can still prevail. It’s important that the United States show in the coming years that its political system still works at home. But it’s also vital to educate the world about what underpins Mr. Xi’s regime: concentration camps, the eradication of minority cultures and the silencing of all critical voices.

U.S. criticism and sanctions are unlikely to bring about any change in China in the short term. But over time, the regime, like the Soviet Union before it, is likely to find itself on the defensive. Most people would like to benefit from the rapidly rising prosperity they see in China. But no one wants to live in a concentration camp.

Read more: