Opinion: Biden’s multilateralism invitations battle with China


President Joe Biden wants the world to know that America is committed to common Western values, multilateralism, and diplomacy. But our allies and adversaries may not react the way we would like, and it could all end badly.

American foreign policy must address existential threats to civilization – climate change, pandemics, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons – and China’s ambitions to create an international order that is friendly to its autocratic capitalism.

If China and Russia saw proliferation as a real threat, Iran would face enough multilateral pressure to either give up its nuclear weapons ambitions or change the risk. Instead, Beijing and Moscow are helping Tehran deal with the US sanctions.

Risky way forward

Europeans would recognize the 2015 deal that frozen Tehran’s arms manufacturing ambitions for only 10 years, would never be a solution and would advocate the toughest sanctions possible to force his hand. The alternative route through negotiations is terribly risky and will not curtail Iran’s support for regional terrorist groups.

By not cooperating more seriously with the World Health Organization’s investigation into COVID, China is increasing the risk of future pandemics – possibly to take advantage of its autocratic system in suppressing viruses within its borders and to fuel its ambitions to achieve global economic dominance.

Unlike Europe, Japan and the United States, China has not committed to zero net carbon emissions by 2050. In return for more cooperation, we can expect Beijing to seek Western complicity in the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, the genocide of Muslims in Xinjiang, and interference with Taiwanese autonomy.

No solution to climate change is possible without India, but its sense of aspiration as a developing country makes net zero emissions politically impossible by 2050 without massive Western help. Europe can hardly afford to finance its own energy transition, and Biden’s middle-class First foreign policy makes it unlikely that industrial modernization in developing countries will be supported on this scale.

Radical political change is required

It seems that the Chinese and Indians don’t believe that they will burn up with the rest of us. If climate change is really an existential threat, the Washington-Brussels axis should aim for radical political changes in Beijing and New Delhi, but that is a little too much for globalists on both sides of the Atlantic.

A decade ago, Beijing saw no gain in genuinely reforming its economic system to adopt Western free market norms – something that is required to bring Beijing’s economic policies into line with the rules and norms of the World Trade Organization – but it at least respected the achievements of the western system. After China’s stronger recovery from COVID, they no longer see the need to even claim such endeavors.

As a result, the idea of ​​reforming the WTO, for example to discipline China’s state support for high tech, is fanciful.

Biden wants to join forces with European and Asian allies to tackle Chinese mercantilism, but without signing new regional trade deals. However, each nation has its own interests and perceptions of China to balance them out.

Germany sees its best interests in adopting India’s now-abandoned strategy of finding equidistance between China and the United States. Shortly before Biden’s inauguration, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the conclusion of the trade agreement between the EU and China, which will further enable Beijing’s growing influence in southern and eastern Europe.

Likewise, France does not want to risk excessive reliance on US technology by freezing the Chinese, and the EU is trying to forge a third center of power in the semiconductor wars.

In the Pacific, the Chinese have shown that they can impose biting sanctions on those who question their foreign and trade policies – for example, for exporting rare earth minerals to Japan and for importing coal, agricultural products and crustaceans from Australia and Taiwan .

Avoid new trade deals

By rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Washington could offer benefits that outweigh the cost of fighting bullying in China. However, if Biden continues to avoid new trade deals, Beijing would like to take our place in the TPP.

China has bigger ambitions – dominance in state-of-the-art semiconductors and artificial intelligence, reunification with Taiwan, supplanting US strategic dominance in the South Pacific, and demonstrating that its state-run capitalism can deliver growth and prosperity better than the faltering US-European model.

Biden wants to call his democracy summit but needs to put more chips on the table to get the level of collaboration he needs. Multilateralism and diplomacy are tools of statecraft, not ends in themselves. When raised as idols, they invite aggression – and surrender or war – as surely as appeasement did in the 1930s.

Peter Morici is an economist and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and a national columnist.

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