The unifying theme behind Joe Biden’s European tour this week is a country that will not be at any of the meetings and may not even be mentioned in the final communiqués: China.
Before embarking on his first overseas trip as president, Biden has made clear that the competition between the world’s democracies and their authoritarian regimes, notably Beijing, is the defining global challenge of the time, with victory for everything but guaranteed to United States and your country. allies.
To win, the president believes that the democratic field will have to display much greater cohesion and ambition in response to the world’s biggest problems, primarily climate change and the pandemic.
That will be his central message at a series of summits over the next few days: the leaders of the G7 in Cornwall, NATO and the EU in Brussels and then a face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
While Russia is seen as the most aggressive autocracy in the short term (meddling in elections, launching cyberattacks, and renewing military pressure on Ukraine), Biden focuses on the long-term challenge of an economically successful and militarily assertive China, each time more under the exclusive control of President Xi Jinping.
Biden has recently become this assessment just two years ago, he argued that fears about China’s rise were overblown.
“Is China going to eat our lunch? Come on, man, “she told him. an audience in Iowa in 2019. “I mean, you know, they’re not bad people, folks. But guess that? They are not a competition for us. “
The intervening months have shaken that complacency. In a two-hour phone call in February, according to the Wall street journal, Xi explained in detail to Biden how China intends to overtake the United States as the world’s preeminent power.
The president is said to be concerned about the issue, persistently raising it in both private and public conversations. In its Washington Post Commentary On Saturday about his trip to Europe, Biden mentioned China four times.
“This is a defining question of our time: can democracies come together to deliver real results to our people in a rapidly changing world?” asked the president. “Will the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped much of the last century prove their ability against today’s threats and adversaries? I think the answer is yes. And this week in Europe, we have the opportunity to prove it ”.
Thomas Wright, director of the Brookings Institution’s center on America and Europe, argues that the issue is central enough to the president’s thinking to deserve the title “Biden doctrine.”
“In his view, the United States is in a governance systems competition with China,” Wright wrote in the atlantic on Wednesday. “His response is not about spreading democracy at gunpoint or even promoting democracy per se, but about demonstrating that democracy can work, both at home and abroad.”
Amanda Sloat, senior director for Europe at Biden’s national security council, said the stakes in terms of global competition make this moment in relations with Europe comparable to the aftermath of World War II.
“Our countries laid the foundations for the world economy after the Second World War. We wrote the rules of the road, based on shared democratic values of fair competition and transparency, ”Sloat said in a discussion of Biden’s trip at the Center for a New American Security.
“It is time for the United States and the EU to discuss updating these rules,” he added, mentioning joint efforts to combat Covid and joint action on the climate emergency.
The very events of the trip underscore the renewed centrality of the transatlantic partnership. Biden is the first president since Jimmy Carter to make Europe the destination of his first trip in office. The US-EU summit will be the first since 2014, and NATO leaders will hold their first meeting and issue their first joint communiqué since 2018.
While reaffirming America’s commitment to collective security at the heart of NATO, challenged by Donald Trump, Biden seeks to push the alliance to look more eastward.
Sloat said it was important for NATO “to take steps to ensure it has the proper posture to deal with new threats.”
“China is one of them, and I think the leaders are going to take stock of the need to adapt to the strategic challenge that Beijing poses to our security, prosperity and collective values,” he said.
Some European allies are reluctant to foment what they fear will turn into a new cold war. The British hosts of the G7 summit do not want to alienate Beijing ahead of the November COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow. China is unlikely to be featured in the leaders’ communiqué at the end of the Cornwall summit for that reason.
The emphasis will be on demonstrating unity and common purpose, for example by announcing a new global vaccine production initiative, a scenario in which the West is in direct rivalry with China.
“It could involve addressing constraints on raw materials, manufacturing, production, distribution, warehousing and also working together to help prepare for future threats,” said Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser.
“And we will do all of this without strings attached, without conditions and with the sole purpose of trying to save lives.”
The key message, Singh said, was to show unity around a set of shared values and to project self-confidence that “our democratic way of life delivers and that we can meet the world’s greatest challenges.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism