Biden goes to China

Biden goes to China

Donald Trump can still win re-election in November, but foreign governments read the same polls we do. They know that Joe Biden heads into the homestretch with a sizeable polling lead — both nationally and in the states most likely to decide the outcome. Naturally, they're thinking ahead to what a Biden foreign policy might look like.

They're probably glad that Biden gives them a half-century track record to study. (He was first elected to local office in 1970 and to the US Senate in 1972.) The six years he spent as ranking member, then chairman, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his term as co-chairman of the Senate's NATO Observer Group, and his eight years as Barack Obama's vice president tell them that he's essentially a "liberal internationalist," a person who believes that America must lead a global advance of democracy and freedom — and that close cooperation with allies is essential for success.


Nowhere is the difference between the Trump and Biden worldviews more obvious than in their approaches to China. Both say China threatens the security of the United States in a variety of ways, and that a tough approach to Beijing is required.

But Biden says the US needs strong bonds with its Asian and European allies to meet the China challenges, while Trump has proven ready to throw punches at anyone, including traditional allies, when he sees a threat to US interests.

Biden's approach would lead him to both engage China, as Trump has sometimes done, and to try to restore trust with Japan, South Korea, and the EU after Trump has threatened to rethink traditional security ties and to launch trade action against all of them. To present China with a united front, he might even try to persuade reluctant Democrats to rejoin the trade pact once known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal that tightens commercial connections with US allies in Asia and excludes a China unwilling to liberalize to meet the agreement's terms. He would also coordinate more closely with Europe on trade, technology, and climate strategies.

But if Joe Biden becomes president, he'll discover that the world has changed in important ways since he and Barack Obama left the White House in January 2017.

First, China has become a much more forceful international player. Xi Jinping has consolidated power to a degree not seen in China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. China has also become more aggressive. The South China Sea and Hong Kong offer compelling recent examples.

Second, allies have now seen just how fast things can change in the United States. If Trump represented a sharp departure from traditional US foreign policy, it's in part because millions of Americans wanted that change. That segment of voters doesn't want the US to play global policeman, and they believe allies take advantage of foolish American generosity. That view won't leave with Trump. It will be back. Maybe soon.

So traditional US allies in Asia and Europe may welcome a president who offers a hand of friendship instead of threats of tariffs, but they know China is only becoming more important in the world — and that China is much more likely than an increasingly erratic America to chart a predictable course over the next ten years. At 77, Biden would be the oldest person ever elected US president. Would he even serve a second term?

Bottom line: For Biden, meeting the challenges posed by China requires a long-term investment in relations with allies — relations that are built on trust. Rebuilding that trust would be his great foreign policy challenge. How to persuade those all-important allies that Mr. Hyde is gone, and Dr. Jekyll is here to stay?

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One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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