US President Joe Biden on the first foreign trip since assuming office headed for Europe on June 9 , 2021 on a 8-day visit to reassert US position on the world stage. Before boarding the Air Force One, he told reporters that the trip was about making clear to the leaders of China and Russia that the US and Europe “are tight”. His national security adviser Jake Sullivan further added, “the trip at its core will advance the fundamental thrust of Joe Biden’s foreign policy to rally the world’s democracies to tackle the great challenges of our time”.
President Biden before leaving for Europe also explained the purpose of his trip in an op-ed in the Washington Post. He clearly stated his objectives, writing that “this is a defining question of our time: can democracies come together to deliver real results for our people in a rapidly changing world? Will the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped so much of the last century prove their capacity against modern-day threats and adversaries? I believe the answer is yes. And this week in Europe, we have the chance to prove it”.
In fact, Biden has set the stakes for his eight-day trip rather very high believing that the West must publicly demonstrate its ability to compete economically with China and also asserting the central theme of his presidency– democracies do a better job than autocracies. But the democracy he talks about has turned into plutocracy in his own country for a long time.
He has a model for Europe to follow with which to challenge the Chinese non-capitalist market economy model. Implicit in his argument is the idea that social democratic political model with corresponding capitalist market economy that now exists in many European countries should be revamped into neo-liberal capitalist market economy like in the US. Obviously, such a model will lead to plutocratic political system in European countries. He also proposed an alternative to China’s Belt and Roads Initiative called ‘Build Back Better World” initiative or for short B3W, a private sector led plan to help narrow the US$40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world, a plan to replace Huawei dominance and a plan to secure critical supply chains.
Biden, however, did not allow the contradictions stand in the way of putting up a united front. The US and some of its European allies such as the UK continue to supply arms to despotic regimes in the Middle-East like the Saudis and the Emiratis and extend wholehearted support for the “democratic” regimes in Algeria and Egypt, even as they take issues with Chinese and Russian actions they deem aggressive and authoritarian.
Also, there are significant concerns in Washington that the US can not maintain a two-front war. The anti-Russia campaign has encouraged Russia and China to forge closer ties and that has raised concerns that the US might be biting off more than it can chew. Now the US appears to be trying to ease tensions with Russia to enable it to intensify the US-led war drive against China.
The President’s travel to Europe took him to Britain first for the summit of the G7 leaders and then to Brussels for a NATO summit and a meeting with the heads of the European Union. The sequencing of his meetings was designed in a way to demonstrate a show of unity with Western European allies before his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin whom Biden had called a “killer”.
The bloc of the world’s major industrialised countries G7, made up of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and the US, ended their three days of deliberation on last Sunday. The EU also sends Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council as attendees. This year Australia, India and South Korea were invited to attend as guest countries, to quote the UK government “to deepen the expertise and experience around the table”.
The summit was hosted by the UK and held in the costal town of Carbis Bay in Cornwall, a popular holiday destination for British holiday makers. Despite the beautiful coastline and countryside that acted as a backdrop to the Summiteers, Cornwall is a one of the poorest region in the UK and is heavily reliant on agriculture and seasonal tourism with higher than the average unemployment rate.
The event, like other major meetings of world leaders, may be described as nothing more than a talking show featuring grand statements meaning nothing substantial or realizable. Also, absence of China and Russia led to criticism that the group excludes countries that should be involved in decision making on world affairs.
The leaders of G7 were trying to position and promote their relevance and exclusivity based on their claim as the vanguard of democratic values. In essence, Biden has framed the great power competition as a battle between democracy and autocracy. China has always been open about its unique political structure and system even when the US was all over with China. The G7 document coincided with the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, and the recently created clash of values can create uncertainty for global peace and prosperity.
The G7 leaders played up multilateralism and downplayed differences that exist within the group. Eventually the China syndrome brought them together to produce a united response at the summit. The 25-page G7 summit communique included all allegations and sore points ranging from human rights abuses in Xinjiang, political disputes over Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea including insinuating about Wuhan Lab responsible for the spread of Covid-19 virus and an alternative to China’s BRI initiative.
But no details were provided in the communique on how to follow through with actions, nor did it offer any practical means of safeguarding the stability of the Taiwan straight or the South China Sea. The G7 communique according to a number experts is less bellicose than President Biden was pushing for, which suggests the others, with possible exception of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, would rather lower the temperature than raise it. Despite Biden’s efforts to corral his G7 members to fall into line, the summit did not appear to fix the US-European relations with the departure of Trump.
However, there is a military subtext to the communique and that should not be underrated. That subtext comes with the concerns expressed over China’s supposedly unilateral moves to consolidate its dominance of global sea lines. Biden arrived at the summit declaring that America is Back. Such a declaration rings an ominous bell of escalating danger of war. Though Britannia no longer rules the waves, Boris Johnson’s nostalgia for the empire of olden days has seen him dispatching his new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as the lead ship in a carrier strike group, including a US destroyer and marines to the South China Sea.
China accused G7 for deliberately slandering China and arbitrarily interfering in China’s internal affairs. The Chinese Embassy in London called it a serious violation of the basic norms of international relations. More ominously, many observers of the anti-China rhetoric coming from the Western countries, in particular G7 countries, consider it reminiscent of the “Eight Nation Alliance” forged in 1900 to invade China and to suppress the popular Chinese anti-imperialist Yihetuan Movement. They looted and pillaged Beijing and other Chinese cities.. They suggest that in 2021 they seem to want to form a bigger alliance for the same purpose.
President Biden arrived in Brussels last Sunday for two days of summit meeting with leaders of the NATO alliance and the European Union (EU). Biden urged his fellow NATO leaders to stand up to China’s authoritarianism and growing military might. Language in the summit’s final communique has set the path for alliance and came a day after the G7 issued a statement on human rights in China. The communique issued on last Monday warned that “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and areas relevant to alliance security”.
While there are many problematic issues to sort out between the US and the EU encompassing trade and technology, there are signs that the EU is likely to accommodate Biden’s hostile policy stance towards China. The leaders resolved to closely consult and cooperate on the full range of issues regarding China, which include elements of cooperation, competition and systemic rivalry. They also intend to continue coordinating their shared concerns on human rights violations, democratic process, East and South China Sea etc., At the same time they also intend to coordinate on their constructive engagement with China on issues such as climate change and non-proliferation and certain regional issues.
The G7 and NATO summits set the stage for president Biden’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on last Wednesday in Geneva. At the conclusion of the meeting, Putin described the talks as constructive and without hostility, and Biden said there was no substitute for face to face talks. While Putin said it was hard to say if relations would improve, there was a ray of hope regarding mutual trust, but Biden said that it was not about trust but about self interest. However, Biden also added that there was a genuine prospect of improving relations.
This was the first US-Russian summit held since Biden took office in January. The summit was held at the conclusion of G7 and NATO summits at which China was clearly identified as the primary target of intensifying war drive by the US. The ultimate aim of such an effort is to disrupt Moscow’s deepening economic, political and military ties with China and to isolate China in preparation for military confrontation. Regardless of what anyone is looking for, war has a logic of its own and that can lead to massive military conflagration.
Biden by now clearly seems much more eager to pursue a military confrontation with China which is likely to find a bipartisan support at home. But China is not a threat because it is attacking US soil; it is a threat to American global hegemony. That is the underlying logic of China threat. Also, anti-China rhetoric can easily be blended with neo-liberal ideology to transform that into anti-socialist rhetoric to make US domestic progressive issues such as universal health care politically toxic.