America is back – and wants everyone to focus on China

From the point of view of Europe, Joe Biden A one week visit could hardly be better. After spending four years being ridiculed Donald Trump — for low NATO defense spending, trade surpluses, reliance on US generosity, and behaving like a “geopolitical enemy” — Europe longed for Biden’s diplomatic balm.

The 46th President of the United States did not disappoint. Biden said America’s friendship was “very solid.” Europe’s security was a “sacred obligation” of America. In addition to strategic reassurance, Biden has also lifted US punitive tariffs on Europe and canceled Long-running subsidy dispute between Boeing and Airbus.

Relief among European officials was palpable. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission President of America As “Dear Joe” — a beloved thing that is hard to imagine using for many of Biden’s predecessors, not just Trump. “Biden’s language and tone was everything Europeans wished for,” says Jeremy Shapiro, director of research at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

America’s internal divisions, as demonstrated during clashes at the US Capitol on January 6 this year, have been a source of concern for European leaders © Brent Stirton / Getty Images

Long-standing disagreements remain – not least over Europe’s low defense spending. But the bigger goal of Biden’s trip, which began with a G7 meeting in sometimes rainy Cornwall and ended with Vladimir Putin’s summit in Geneva, had more to do with the Indian and Pacific Oceans than the Atlantic.

Before Biden’s first foreign presidential foray, there was speculation about where his strategic priority would be. Was it the rivalry between democracy and authoritarianism, the management of the new age of great power competition, the reassertion of US-led multilateralism, or the formation of coalitions to tackle the pandemic and global warming? The answer is “All that is beyond it”.

But Biden’s trip conveyed something more important. get over it The main concern is China. The much-watched Biden Summit on Democracy, which received a rote quote from the G7, has been postponed until next year. The location is not specified. By contrast, the Chinese challenge appeared three times in the G7 communiqué and was cited for the first time by NATO – an alliance supposedly defending the North Atlantic.

US President Joe Biden reassured European leaders that security is
US President Joe Biden reassured European leaders that security is America’s “sacred obligation” © Patrick Semansky / AP

Biden’s primary message to his European friends was: “Don’t worry guys, I support you. Now let me go and do my real work in the Indo-Pacific,” says Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London-based think tank. The language in China was cautious. But she fought it all out.”

China was also hovering around the US-Russia summit without anyone talking about it. Perhaps the contrast between Biden’s meeting with Putin in Geneva and Trump’s notorious pals with him in 2018 in Helsinki is perhaps the most striking feature of Biden’s trip. unlike Biden’s domestic critics, whom he accused of giving Putin an undeserved gift by appearing on the same stage, most Europeans were glad to see them speak.

“Negotiating with your opponents is what diplomacy is supposed to be about — as long as you have aides and note-takers,” says Fiona Hill, who, as Trump’s adviser to Russia, was not allowed into a private meeting with Putin. “Not talking is meaningless. Should Biden refuse to meet Xi Jinping because China has concentration camps?”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden met at Villa Lagrange in Geneva, Switzerland, last week
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden met at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, last week © Peter Klaunzer – Pool / Keystone via Getty Images

Pragmatism about Russia

One of the surprising aspects of Biden’s approach was his style Putin’s practical treatment. He refrained from making speeches about democracy, although he threatened Putin with “devastating” consequences if Alexei Navalny, the leader of the outlawed Russian opposition, died in prison. He also vowed to take revenge on them Future Russian cyberattacks After SolarWind’s deep penetration of US government systems last year. The two agreed to create a nuclear and one on cybersecurity working group, which some see as today’s equivalent of Cold War weapons talks. It is likely that the latter operation was riddled with mistrust – Russia, or groups that the United States believed to be linked to Russia, visited major disruption in the US at very low cost. But the fact that the group exists now may make Putin think twice.

By contrast, Biden made only passing references to “values” and “freedom.” Putin was the only one of the two who publicly referred to ideals – perhaps in an arrogant manner – who praised Biden’s “moral values” and his willingness to speak up for his family. Once again, the contrast with Trump was startling.

“Trump was always seen as transactional, and Biden was emotional,” says Stephen Werthem, co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Government. In practice, Biden has been pragmatic with Putin, while Trump has been obsessed with status and prestige.

The clear goal was to make relations between the United States and Russia less dangerous and unstable. The test will be whether Biden succeeds in the dogs that don’t bark – the foreign poisonings of Russian opponents and cyberattacks on the West that don’t. This will take time to evaluate. Difficult to prove negative. Biden’s tacit goal was to quell Putin’s paranoia.

Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping listening to US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during their meeting in Beijing in 1974
Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping listens to US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during their meeting in Beijing in 1974 © AP

Biden drew derision at home for calling Russia a “superpower” and Putin a “decent opponent.” He was also criticized last month for refusing to impose sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. Biden also paid brief attention in Geneva to rumors that Ukraine would be accepted into NATO. The word “appeasement” is again creeping into Washington’s vocabulary.

However, there was an objective to flatter Biden. Some call it “the reverse Henry Kissinger,” after famous National Security Adviser Richard Nixon, who made cloak and dagger trips to Beijing in the early 1970s to take advantage of the Sino-Soviet split. China eventually seceded from the Soviet bloc. Beijing is the number one partner today. The long-term hope is to drive a wedge between Russia and China.

“The more Biden treats Russia with respect as a great power, which Putin craves, the easier it will be for him to relax Russia from the embrace of China,” Hill says.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen receives President Biden before the EU-US Summit at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen receives President Biden before the EU-US Summit at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium. © Olivier Hoslet / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Such an approach means downplaying Biden’s framing of “democracy versus authoritarianism.” Instead, America will play on authoritarian Russia’s concern about China’s treatment of it as a little brother. Some of America’s partners, including France, Japan and India, are also trying to establish closer relations with Russia with the aim of weakening its relations with China.

“At this point, it would be a geopolitical malpractice for America not to try to ‘reverse Kissinger,’” Shapiro says. “At the very least, America should stop pushing Russia into the arms of China. But it will take more than one presidential term.”

European Relief

Biden’s game of geopolitical chess is fraught with obstacles. Among the most important of these factors is Europe’s reluctance to look at China in the same way Existential anxiety like America. The continent trades with China more than the United States. Biden got allusions to the Chinese threat in the various statements of the summit. But shared data is not the same as concrete action.

Europe does more trade with China than the United States, and has shown a reluctance to view it with the same existential interest
Europe deals with China more than the United States, and has shown a reluctance to view it with the same existential interest. © David Paul Morris / Bloomberg

For example, Europe is still far from following America’s approach to a continent-wide ban on sensitive Chinese technology, such as Huawei’s 5G network.

Biden is also constrained by Europe’s doubts about whether he will be re-elected in 2024 – the legacy of Trump who has been bitten twice and twice ashamed. Europeans listened politely to Biden’s focus on democracy versus authoritarianism. But their biggest concern is the future of American democracy. Will Biden’s “America is Back” slogan remain beyond his presidency?

“Europeans are as obsessed with America’s internal divisions as they are with the future of global democracy,” says Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “One European official told me he thinks of America the way an amputee feels that one of the missing limbs is still there. Will it grow again?”

The relief with which Biden was received in Europe suggests that he has convinced allies that America is at least temporarily back in action. There was also appreciation for the way Biden conveyed that message. Instead of talking about the US getting back at the head of the table, Biden said America is “back to the table.” Instead of America leading, “America leads with allies.” Such modifications seem trivial. But they showed a sensitivity that was recently missing. The Europeans also noted that Biden spent hours preparing for each of his summits.

“It was a shock to see professional diplomats working again,” says Niblett. “Biden’s team is experienced and understands the game.”

Then US President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, in 2019
Then US President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, in 2019 © Jeff J Mitchell/PA

Different lens from China

However, there was little convincing of the fact that the Atlantic Ocean was no longer the most important geopolitical theater in the world in the eyes of America. This distinction belongs to the Indo-Pacific. Although this was Biden’s first presidential trip, his first virtual summit in March with leaders Quad – United States, Japan, India and Australia. The Quartet is not an official alliance. But it plays a bigger role in Biden’s plans than the future of NATO.

“During the Obama years, if you mention the Quartet, people were thinking of America, Britain, France and Germany,” Hill says. “Now it can only mean the Indo-Pacific.”

At the moment, transatlantic relations are moving into a phase of better reform. The coming months will reveal whether Biden’s tougher approach to Russia will pay off. At Putin’s press conference on Wednesday, he was asked if there is now trust between him and the US president. Putin replied: “There is no happiness in life.” “There is only a mirage on the horizon.”

With the exception of Russian gloom, Putin would have given a lecture on the limits of thinking about the end of history. Biden’s destination is clear – a stable world order in which America is first among equals. That horizon is always likely to be out of reach.

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