This week the clock turned back in the United States. Not only because of the spring time change or the changing of the guard that the new government in Washington supposes. At 78, Joe Biden is the oldest president to ever come to the White House. He was born in the middle of the World War and starred in the politics of the Cold War. The one that China accuses these days of replicating in Asia.
Biden is a classic. Someone predictable who reassures European allies. A familiar face to his enemies, who were already in power when he was Barack Obama's vice president. He met Vladimir Putin's eyes alone in his office in 2011, the same year he laughed out loud with Xi-Jinping during his visit to China. And no, he did not "beg" for a meeting with Kim Jong-un, as Donald Trump said, but he did open channels of dialogue that the spoiled dictator despised as much as now, when he has left unanswered the communications that the Department of Justice has sent him. Condition.
With the dispatch of his secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, and the head of the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, to Asia, the new president takes up the old policy of rebuilding diplomatic alliances to strengthen the influence of the United States in the region, while continuing to arm your satellites so that they defend the square. The world, however, has changed.
As US governments focused their policy on fighting threats from the Middle East, Russia stirred up disinformation and China became a world power that challenges it on multiple fronts. It is, as the US Secretary of State acknowledged, "a very complex relationship," sometimes collaborative and "increasingly adversarial."
Biden believes that the strength of the United States lies in the strength of its democracy and its alliances around the world, but China believes that it has to change "the vision of its own democracy" because after all "there are many people in the United States who It has little confidence in the democracy of the United States, ”said Yang Jiechi, head of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party on Thursday, during the first bilateral meeting between both governments.
It was the first time that Biden's cabinet had been red-faced by allegations of voter fraud that led to the Jan.6 assault on the Capitol. Despite having been factually dismantled, they provide their enemies with an argument to question their legitimacy and, above all, their role as a beacon of democracy in the world.
American diplomats seemed to be taken by surprise by the critical talkativeness of their counterpart at that first meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, but it shouldn't. President Xi Jinping was one of the last world leaders to congratulate Biden on his victory, despite the deterioration of his relations with Trump after accusations of spreading "the Chinese virus" around the world and the painful trade war they waged. . Beijing welcomed Trump's lack of interest in human rights, the blind eye he turned to his nationalist policy in Taiwan or Hong Kong, and the belief that as long as there was a personal relationship between the two leaders, the United States would not pose a military threat.
Sermons and sanctions
With Biden, criticism and democratic sermons, sanctions and military pressure have returned through the US allies in the region - Japan and South Korea, whom the Pentagon chief tries to convince to acquire more weapons. The tariffs that Trump imposed and the technology vetoes remain in place, without Biden in a hurry to withdraw them, determined to negotiate from a position of strength. "We are not looking for conflict, but rigid competition," said the White House National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who traveled to Alaska for the meeting.
China has fared worse the "unfounded" criticism of Washington and the "interference" in its internal affairs because of Trump's unstable mood swings, which it learned to resolve with pragmatism and a checkbook stroke during trade negotiations. With the economy buoyant after controlling the pandemic, the virus has given it the opportunity to break into the pharmaceutical market long dominated by India and Western companies, to launch another type of diplomacy, that of the vaccine, which it provides free to 69 countries of the world, especially in Africa and Latin America, and exports to other 28.
Health and geopolitics
In the face of White House nationalism with patents, Blinken's warnings that other countries do not accept the conditions with which Chinese vaccines arrive have had little echo. The United States has had to enter to compete on that flank if it wants to secure the geopolitical influence that Biden seeks. The meeting with the so-called Quad Group last week led to an alliance between the United States and India, Australia and Japan to distribute the precious vaccine in the Pacific and this Saturday the commitment to transfer the AstraZeneca batches to Mexico and Canada was announced. that has not yet been approved by the FDA.
China sees the development of its antivirals as a source of pride and world supremacy. Even French President Emmanuel Macron has admitted that "vaccine diplomacy" is "a bit humiliating" for countries like his, which have lagged behind.
Biden may remain anchored in the Cold War and traditional alliances, but China is a versatile and complex international actor that has never fired a bomb, despite spending more on military spending than Russia. In the next few years it will undoubtedly test American audacity and its supposed technological superiority, but if Biden knows how to handle it and the maxim of American capitalism is fulfilled, the competition will benefit everyone. The challenge has only just begun.