United States
International 10/06/2021

Joe Biden seeks European complicity in his duel with China and Russia

The US president aims to regain leadership of his country on his first international trip

4 min
Joe Biden, just before boarding Air Force One to fly to the United Kingdom on Wednesday
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WashingtonIf Joe Biden's main objective at home is to "heal the soul of the nation" after four years of exacerbating differences, the international soul does not seem to be far behind. The American president landed this Wednesday in the United Kingdom in what is his first trip abroad, with the central objective of healing the wounds and mistrust that was sowed during the four years of trumpism amongst America's traditional allies.

Donald Trump's doctrine of America first resulted in a White House more akin to authoritarian leaders and dictators than to traditional allies, whom it came to treat as rivals. Trump closed the United States in on itself by renouncing multilateralism. Biden, on the other hand, intends to return to Washington's conventional politics. He arrives in Europe to re-establish ties and vindicate the leadership of the allied democratic powers. And, most importantly, to put an end to what the United States detects as their main threats: Russia and China.

Having just landed, Biden made a first speech to the American soldiers stationed in the United Kingdom, in which he guaranteed his "sacred commitment to Article 5 of NATO". The article sets out the obligation to defend any member of the alliance that is attacked. He further warned that, concerning Russia, the "United States will respond in a forceful and meaningful way" to any attempt at undermining democracy across the world.

Before returning to Washington next Wednesday, Joe Biden will meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, attend the G-7 meeting in Cornwall (United Kingdom), visit the Queen of England, hold meetings in Brussels with NATO members (including a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) and with the leaders of the European Union. Finally, he will have an expected face to face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Strengthening transatlantic ties

On Wednesday, before boarding Air Force One, the presidential plane, Biden stated that the main objective of the trip is to "strengthen the alliance and make it clear to Putin and China that Europe and the United States are united". Already, at the end of April, in his first speech to Congress, the President pointed out that China and other countries "think that democracy cannot compete in the 21st century with autocracies because it takes a long time to reach consensus". For this reason, it will be fundamental for Joe Biden to arrive in Geneva having been able to emerge strengthened and with a message of unity from his meetings in Cornwall and Brussels.

But the Europe to which Biden now returns as President is not the one he once knew as second in command in the White House, at least in terms of the European perception of how far it can rely on the US as an ally. The end of Donald Trump's presidency is neither the end of trumpism nor does it exclude the possibility of Trump himself returning to power in 2025. This Washington, which is now returning to its origins, cannot guarantee how long it will do so. Recent is the memory of the storming of the Capitol building on January 6th, a hitherto unthinkable image of the self-proclaimed beacon of democracy across the globe.

In a press conference, the White House National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, has assured this week that Biden travels "in a position of strength" based on the internal progress in the fight against the pandemic and for economic recovery. A position of strength that Biden will try to use, at the very least, to attract his allies to share his position towards China and Russia.

On Beijing, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg clarified on Monday at a conference in Washington that he does not consider it an "adversary", and thus marked some distance from the rhetoric of the United States. He even stressed that China's economic growth opens "some opportunities for our economies". He emphasized, however, that Chinese leaders "do not share our values".

On the other hand, the White House has not yet achieved a common front because Europe has not turned its back completely on Chinese technology especially with regard to 5G networks, one of the main focuses of the previous US administration. According to Jake Sullivan, Biden's meeting with the leaders of the European Union will focus on "aligning our approaches to trade and technology so that it is democracies and no one else (neither China nor other autocracies) that set the commercial and technological standards in the 21st century".

In light of this, last week Biden signed an executive order that prohibits American companies from investing in Chinese companies linked to the military or that sell technology used to monitor and repress minorities. Europe, for now, has not followed in these footsteps.

Putin fires up the face to face meeting with Biden

To round off his week-long trip to Europe, the US President will meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Geneva. Jake Sullivan wanted to clarify that the White House does not consider the meeting as a "reward" for the Russians, but rather as an opportunity to "defend America's interests and values". According to US intelligence services, Russia is behind several of the cyberattacks that the country has recently suffered, an issue that Biden announced he will put on the table during the meeting. Putin has already prepared his introductin with his defense of the January 6th insurgents, of whom he said that "they are not looters or thieves", but people with "political demands".

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