Biden seeks the support of his allies to confront Putin, China

WASHINGTON – On his first overseas trip, President Biden will seek to unite European partners and other democratic nations against what he sees as a threatening rise in authoritarianism, as the world emerges from the economic and health crises posed by the US pandemic. coronavirus.

Biden has called for years for the strengthening of American alliances. One of his main tasks in the coming days in Europe will be to defend the primacy of the western liberal order led by the United States that has been in place since World War II. In his eight-day trip, Biden will meet with the strongholds of that order, the nations of the Group of Seven, the European Union and the defense alliance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The meetings come as the Chinese government seeks to expand its sphere of influence and challenge the economic supremacy of the United States as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic with a robust economy and is an important trading partner with much of the world. During a two-hour phone call with Biden in February, Chinese leader Xi Jinping touted China’s plans to eclipse the United States as the world’s most powerful nation, according to people familiar with the content of the call.

Russia, meanwhile, is a major gas exporter to Germany and other European nations and recently showed its military strength on the border with Ukraine.

“We are in a battle between democracies and autocracies,” Biden said last month during a speech to troops at a military base in Hampton, Virginia. “The more complicated the world becomes, the more difficult it is for democracies to come together and reach consensus.”

Some European and Asian allies question whether the United States can reliably support such long-term alliances after the severance of ties during the administration of former President Donald Trump, who frequently criticized NATO member countries for not spending enough money. in defence. He also had conflicting encounters with many of his G-7 counterparts.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Qinghai Province on June 8.


Xie Huanchi / Zuma Press

There are also differences between the allies on how to deal with China and Russia. From Japan’s perspective, bringing the European powers together in a coalition to confront China makes it easier for Tokyo to avoid being singled out by Beijing. Japan has indicated that it will push for a firm statement from the G-7 leaders on issues such as China’s expansionary drive in the East China Sea and its treatment of its Uighur minority, mostly Muslim.

While the UK and other countries have openly criticized human rights abuses, they need China on their side if the UK-chaired climate change conference this fall in Glasgow, Scotland, is to produce anything meaningful.

As a result, British officials said they do not expect China to be called by name in most of the joint communiqués released during the G-7 meeting. Instead, the G-7 will likely highlight the vaguest ideal of the importance of democratic values.

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year said he wanted to avoid a scenario in which several countries “all unite together against China.” Such an approach, he said, would be “counterproductive because it will push China to increase its regional strategy” and encourage it to cooperate less on issues of common interest.

When asked for comment, the Chinese embassy in Washington referred to an earlier statement by the Foreign Ministry that “attempts to make up all kinds of excuses to meddle in China’s internal affairs, damage Chinese sovereignty, and tarnish China’s image without regard to the basic rules of international relations are doomed to fail. “

Mr. Biden’s itinerary will include the G-7 summit in Cornwall, England, with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom; a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle; and consultations with NATO leaders and EU members in Brussels. He will conclude his trip with a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, where his advisers said he is expected to press the Russian leader on cybersecurity, human rights and other issues.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said in an interview that the president sees the next decade as a crucial test of whether democracies can remain a dominant force around the world. Sullivan said the president’s concerns about the spread of authoritarianism around the world serve as an “important framework for him in everything he is doing.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks in St. Petersburg on June 4.


evgenia novozhenina / Reuters

Unlike his recent predecessors in office, Biden has explicitly linked his first-year national agenda to his foreign policy goals. In multiple speeches, he has said that a large increase in government spending on infrastructure is necessary to show that the United States can compete economically with China.

Republicans in Congress reply that higher public spending will not necessarily help the United States compete abroad. They say Biden is talking about the vulnerability of democracy to distract himself from what they see as a flawed agenda rife with tax increases and overspending.

“Almost everything President Biden and his administration does undermines the position of the United States in the world,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R., Florida).

At the G-7, White House advisers said Biden will point to America’s response to the pandemic, including his steps to boost the economy and the development and distribution of effective vaccines domestically and internationally, as proof that democracies can meet modernity. challenges of the day. China has touted its own vaccination rate and low infection case count, and has moved to deepen its influence in the developing world by exporting millions of doses of vaccines faster than the United States and its allies.

“What democracies have to show is that we can still deliver and deliver in a way that people feel in their lives,” said Mike Donilon, senior adviser to the White House.

During the NATO summit, Biden will also push for improved cybersecurity amid a surge in ransomware attacks that US officials say come from Russian and other entities, which Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray, has compared to the challenge posed by the September report. 11 of 2001, terrorist attacks. Putin has widely denied Western accusations about cyberattacks originating in Russia.


How do you think President Biden can strengthen democracy and counter repressive regimes? Join the conversation below.

A former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden was a leading proponent of NATO expansion in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was frequently tasked by President Barack Obama to work closely collaboration with the democracies of Eastern Europe that were previously under the sphere of Soviet Russia, such as Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic countries.

In the years after his tenure as vice president, Biden made speeches and wrote articles on the challenge of confronting Russia and other autocratic regimes. Biden’s defense caught the attention of former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who telephoned the former vice president and enlisted him to join his transatlantic push to promote democracy and improve the integrity of elections around the world.

Rasmussen, in an interview, urged Biden to fulfill his campaign promise to host a summit of democratic nations during his first year in office, calling the meeting essential to show that the countries are united.

Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Washington in 2019.


mandel ngan / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Biden’s views, say his assistants and associates, have been influenced by the book “How Democracies Die,” by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, which warns that democracies often collapse from a steady weakening of institutions rather than an overthrow of the government.

During a March 2018 trip aboard an Acela train, Biden struck up a conversation with Robert Fallon, an executive at Phosplatin Therapeutics Inc., a New York oncology pharmaceutical company. After discussing cancer research, Biden introduced him to the tome, Fallon said, and Biden added, “You should get this book and read it.”

Biden has continued to plug the book ever since, buying copies for friends and referring it to his assistants, including at a closed-door meeting at the White House last week, officials said.

Last year, British officials floated the idea of ​​forming a club of democracies, internally dubbed the “D-10,” to roll back autocratic regimes. To showcase the project, Britain invited India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa as invited nations to join this week’s G-7.

But in recent months, British officials have become nervous about pushing the D-10 effort too aggressively. A senior British diplomat said some nations are reluctant to form an official D-10, due to concerns that it will compete with the G-7.

Rather than form a new group, Biden hopes to use existing diplomatic relations to counter autocracies around the world, the advisers said.

After hanging up the phone with Xi in February, Biden told his aides to make the topic of how democracies can compete against autocracies a central part of their February virtual meeting with G-7 leaders, attendees said. It also became a key message in Biden’s April speech at a joint session of Congress.

“Autocrats will not win the future,” he said. “We will do it.”

Write to Ken Thomas at [email protected] and Andrew Restuccia at [email protected]

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