The Biden administration is wasting no time with its foreign agenda. Under the thumb of a very capable diplomat, Anthony Blinken, the US is mobilising its Asian allies against China in a way reminiscent of how NATO was built in the period after the Second World War, only faster.
As Al Capone put it: “You can get so much further with a kind word … and a gun.”
The kind word here is diplomacy in the classical sense, of which Donald Trump was incapable, and which Joe Biden perfectly masters. The gun is military might – not only of the US but of its many allies in the region.
Trump had the instinct to tackle a rising China, but he did it as a salesman, furious to see profits going in other people’s pockets. Biden will do it all-out, using in his arsenal China’s human rights dossier, an issues traditionally successful in mobilising support in the EU.
The EU seems to have suddenly become aware of the problem of the Uighurs, once their US friends brought it to their attention. The bloc went so far as to slap sanctions on China, though not all member states actually rebuked their Chinese ambassador.
China, not Europe, has been the main focus of US interest in the first 100 days of the Biden administration. As early as February, Blinken met virtually with counterparts in Japan, Australia, and India for a first gathering of the Quad strategic dialogue, a grouping aiming to balance China’s growing military and economic power.
Separately, Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed in a telephone call to strengthen Indo-Pacific security through the Quad, which then held a virtual summit on 12 March.
The new US administration has also recommitted to South Korea, announcing an increase in its contribution to the cost of its forces stationed there under an agreement from the 1950s. This was followed by a visit of Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Seoul and Tokyo.
At talks in Seoul, Blinken said China was using “coercion and aggression” to pursue its regional goals, citing the country’s actions towards Taiwan and Hong Kong and in the contested East and South China Seas.
China’s extensive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, contested by Japan and other Asian nations, have prompted Japan to seek even closer ties with the United States.
Not so for Seoul, for whom the Sino-US rivalry has been posing a challenge. South Korea is not eager to provoke China, its largest economic partner and an ally of its provocative neighbour North Korea.
Significantly, South Korea’s foreign ministry has agreed to continue discussions to arrange a summit between President Moon Jae-in and Biden as early as possible, in part to coordinate a strategy to deal with the North.
It was with a certain symbolism that Blinken chose Alaska for a frosty meeting with the Chinese. He certainly realises that antagonising China will facilitate a Beijing-Moscow rapprochement, but seems to be prepared to accept that the opposite camp will also get organised.
The US might have NATO to tackle Russia but there is no equivalent military alliance to keep China at bay. It’s difficult to imagine that India, the heart and soul of the Non-Aligned Movement, would enter such a pact, but who knows? India is certainly wary of China’s strong ties with its nuclear-armed rival and neighbour Pakistan.
What’s clear is that Biden has a lot of catching up to do in the broader Asia-Pacific region in the wake of Trump’s pathetic meetings with Kim Jong-un. There will be consequences for the EU. It’s time we become aware.
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A group of seven European leaders fronted by French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the European Commission to stop hindering nuclear power and consider ways of bringing atomic energy into the EU’s green finance rule book ahead of an EU summit.
The renewed focus on the COVID-19 crisis and delays with the European vaccination campaign are set to overshadow talks on how to align industrial policy with the EU’s climate goals at an EU summit meeting.
Europe has the opportunity to lead the global shift towards net-zero emissions and reap the rewards of the green transformation, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The European Commission’s upcoming June package of energy and climate laws will “propose the extension of the emission trading scheme to sectors such as building and road transport,” the EU’s energy commissioner Kadri Simson said.
Look out for…
- EU leaders summit tonight, Eurogroup tomorrow
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]