Biden's struggles with China and Europe invite unwelcome Trump comparisons

  • In World
  • 2021-09-20 10:00:00Z
  • By Washington Examiner

President Joe Biden campaigned on his foreign policy credentials, but he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are locked in a great power stalemate while Biden alienates long-standing European allies.

Biden has denounced China for alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and Beijing's failure to cooperate with investigations into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. But those condemnations have come at the expense of progress on trade and climate issues as the president enrages European partners, such as France, over a new national security alliance trying to contain China.


China hoped Biden's approach would be similar to that of former President Barack Obama. In short, that Biden would apologize for past tensions, promise to collaborate on areas of mutual interest, and ignore controversies. But Biden, like former President Donald Trump, has not capitulated, according to Zack Cooper, an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow and Vandenberg Coalition China expert.

"They're struggling to engage and get the Biden team to change the way it's talking about China," he said. "My sense is that actually the leadership in Beijing right now, they are not looking for very much out of the bilateral interactions."

For Cooper, neither the United States and China are incentivized to concede because of domestic politics and long-term objectives.

Biden's posture toward China is one of a handful of holdover policies from the Trump administration. But Biden, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and ex-vice president, is attempting to differentiate himself from his predecessor - a brash political novice - by searching for common ground with Beijing.

But whether Biden's overarching strategy toward China strives to alter Beijing's behavior "or simply to hold the line," Cooper contended the president still needs to improve his relationships with Europe and Southeast Asia.

"If the Biden team really believes that there's a competition between democracy and autocracies, and democracies have to deliver, then we have to get Europe on board with that vision," he said. "A lot of the major European states aren't there right now."

Biden rankled China and France this week by celebrating a new national security alliance with the United Kingdom and Australia. The partnership is aimed at helping Australia build nuclear submarines as a deterrent to Beijing's increasing aggression in the Indo-Pacific region over disputed territory.

The news of the U.S.-U.K-Australia alliance was met with outrage from China, which decried the trio for their "Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the alliance because of U.S. strategic interests, with the added benefit of promoting international norms and Indo-Pacific peace and stability.

The U.S.-U.K.-Australia alliance was announced after China snubbed Biden climate envoy John Kerry this month. Chinese officials refused to meet Kerry in person, despite the Obama-era secretary of state and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee flying to Tianjin, east of Beijing. Biden and Xi convened a 90-minute phone call last week after the incident.

"The call was very familiar. It was candid," Psaki told reporters. "He didn't avoid areas of disagreement, but the tone was not lecturing, nor was it condescending. It was respectful."

"This call was about keeping the channels of communication open," she said. "What we've seen is that the importance here is about engaging Xi directly at the leader level due to the centralization of power and the power that's in his hands."

A White House readout of the Biden-Xi conversation vaguely outlined the pair's discussion about how it was "the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict." The prospect of "division and even confrontation" was first broached by Xi in January during the World Economic Forum's meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

China was not the only country Biden angered this week with his U.S.-U.K.-Australia alliance.

France, irked that Australia reneged on a $90 billion submarine contract with Paris, canceled a Washington gala that would have marked the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Capes, a critical Revolutionary War naval battle. France then recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, accusing Biden of Trump-like unpredictability.

Asked what Biden thought about being compared to Trump, Psaki replied, "I would say the president doesn't think about it much."

Biden's job approval numbers have sagged since the summer, particularly after the president's disastrous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

After smaller flaps over Biden's opposition to the Russian-German Nord Stream II pipeline project and his reluctance to loosen COVID-19 travel restrictions, Afghanistan eroded Biden's reputation for competence and compassion at home and abroad.

British and German politicians were especially vocal in their criticism of Biden's exit strategy, though the president denied it last month.

"I've not seen a questioning of our credibility by our allies," Biden told reporters. "The fact of the matter is, I have not seen that. Matter of fact, the exact opposite."

Washington Examiner Videos

Tags: News, Biden, Biden Administration, Joe Biden, White House, Emmanuel Macron, France, Australia, China, Xi Jinping, Foreign Policy, National Security

Original Author: Naomi Lim

Original Location: Biden's struggles with China and Europe invite unwelcome Trump comparisons


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