Biden draws sharp contrast with Trump in presidential debut on world stage

(From left) US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron during the Munich Security Conference.
(From left) US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron during the Munich Security Conference.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Joe Biden on Friday (Feb 19) drew a sharp contrast with the foreign policy of his much-derided predecessor, Donald Trump, and urged democracies to work together to challenge abuses by autocratic states such as China and Russia.

In his first big appearance as president on the global stage, an online virtual visit to Europe, Biden sought to re-establish the United States as a multilateral team player after four years of divisive “America First” policies under Trump.

Speaking to the Munich Security Conference, Biden drew a stark contrast with the more transactional foreign policy of Trump, who angered allies by breaking off global accords and threatening to end defense assistance unless they toed his line.

“I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship, but the United States is determined - determined – to re-engage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership,” he said.

Several years ago as a private citizen at the Munich Security Conference, Biden reassured participants rattled by the Trump presidency, telling them: “We will be back.”

On Friday, he told the virtual online audience: “America is back.”

The message of collaboration echoed his message during a private videoconference earlier on Friday with the leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) advanced economies, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, a senior administration official said.

Biden plans to join G-7 members for an in-person summit hosted by Britain this summer.

US partnerships had endured and grown through the years because they were “rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values,” Biden said.

“They’re not transactional. They’re not extractive. They’re built on a vision of the future where every voice matters.”

He said US allies must stand firm against the challenges posed by China, Iran and Russia, saying Russia was seeking to weaken the transatlantic alliance and calling for unity to counter what he called China’s abusive economic practices.

“The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try to undermine our system of governance,” he said.

“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin seeks to weaken the European project and our Nato alliance. He wants to undermine our transatlantic unity and our resolve,” Biden said.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any such action.

Biden stressed what he called America’s “unshakeable” commitment to the 30-member Nato alliance, marking another switch from Trump, who called Nato outdated and even suggested at one point that Washington could withdraw from the alliance.

Biden also arrived bearing gifts – a US$4 billion (S$5.3 billion) pledge of support for global coronavirus vaccination efforts, the re-entry of the United States into the Paris climate accord and the prospect of a nearly US$2 trillion spending measure that could bolster both the US and global economies.

Biden said the world was at an inflection point, but he was convinced that democracies, not autocracies, offered the best path forward for the world.

Call for coordinated approach to China

Biden said major market economies and democracies needed to work together to tackle challenges posed by great-power competitors like Russia and China, and challenges ranging from nuclear proliferation to climate change and cybersecurity.

He took particular aim at China, the world’s second largest economy, and its failure to abide by international standards, arguing that democracies must shape the rules to govern the advance of new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

“We have to push back against the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system,” he said.

Chinese companies, he said, should be held to the same standards that applied to US and European companies.

“We must stand up for the democratic values that make it possible for us to accomplish any of this, pushing back against those who would monopolise and normalise repression,” he said.

The Biden White House is reviewing China policy across all fronts, including its military buildup and trade policies, its actions in Hong Kong, treatment of minority Uighurs in Xinjiang and its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

On the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear programme, Biden said the United States looked forward to re-engaging in diplomacy amid efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal that Trump abandoned.

The G-7 countries, who control a little under half of the world economy, sought at their meeting to look beyond the Covid-19 pandemic towards rebuilding their economies with free trade and countering China’s “non-market oriented” policies.