ADDRESSING the United Nations General Assembly last month, President Joe Biden promised a new era of “relentless diplomacy” and renewed the United States’ commitment to multilateralism that his predecessor so strongly rejected. disdain. In his first foreign policy speech since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden said that US military might will now be an option of last resort, not of first resort. He called for international cooperation to address common challenges and pledged to work with allies. He also said that the United States “is not looking for a new cold war or a world divided into rigid blocs”.
Welcome statements that contrasted sharply with the boastful rhetoric of President Donald Trump. But the actions of the Biden administration were at odds with many of those words. China’s policy and Washington’s treatment of its allies have not been in line with these statements. Consider what happened in the wake of the United States leaving Afghanistan. As if to quickly deliver on its promise to turn to bigger challenges – namely China – Washington has forged a new trilateral security pact with the UK and Australia called AUKUS. The coalition’s goal is to counter Chinese power in the Asia-Pacific region by helping Australia build eight nuclear-powered submarines equipped with Tomahawk missiles.
This effort to bolster Australia’s naval might to challenge China’s military ascendancy in the Western Pacific has met with a strong response from Beijing. Accusing the UKUS nations of an “outdated zero-sum cold war mentality,” Beijing denounced the move as “irresponsible” and said it “would undermine regional peace and security and intensify the arms race. “. It is certain that this agreement has consequences for the international non-proliferation regime. As former IAEA official Tariq Rauf recently wrote, “This may well open a Pandora’s box of proliferation with non-nuclear-weapon states also launching into nuclear submarines and would keep nuclear fuel outside the scope of IAEA safeguards ”.
The world’s most important relationship is drifting through uncharted waters in a busy environment.
The immediate diplomatic fallout from the deal was a rift between America’s allies. Paris, which was not kept informed and saw Australia abandon its plan to acquire French diesel-electric submarines, reacted with fury. The French foreign minister called it a “stab in the back”. As Washington sought to calm French anger in a phone call from Biden to President Emmanuel Macron, the damage to relations was already done. The signal sent to Europe was that the United States could do whatever it wanted without committing allies. He exposed the gulf between Biden’s pledge to consult with partners and his policy measures. AUKUS’s anti-China coalition building opened cracks in the transatlantic alliance that Biden had previously sought to solidify for his anti-Beijing diplomatic strategy. The security pact has also made many ASEAN countries nervous – their economies being tightly integrated into China’s global supply chain.
Read: The policy of UKUS
In the week following the AUKUS announcement, Biden hosted a summit of Quad leaders – the United States, Australia, Japan and India – as part of another effort to strengthen an anti-China front among regional states. The quadrilateral security dialogue was revived by the Trump administration in 2017 in an attempt to counter China. But, as many Western analysts have pointed out, Quad has now been undermined by AUKUS. US officials described it as non-military and “informal.” The haste with which Washington acted after its Afghan withdrawal – perhaps to distract attention from this debacle – involved actions that seemed so haphazard that they left many allies bewildered. For example, former Indian Foreign Minister Nirupuma Rao said there had been “a strategic ambush against Quad by AUKUS” and questioned its raison d’être when Quad already existed.
The declaration issued after the Quad summit committed member countries to a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. Although he never mentioned China, the meeting – and indeed Quad itself – focuses primarily on compensating for China’s rise to power. The spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the Quad summit by warning the United States not to engage in “small closed and exclusive circles” while World time – which reflects Beijing’s views – described it as an attempt “to incite strife and confrontation in the Western Pacific”. The AKUS and Quad measures have escalated tensions between the United States and China and have confirmed to Beijing that a US-led China containment strategy continues.
But as the Biden administration ramps up its anti-China efforts on the global front, at home its national agenda has become mired in the country’s intensely polarized environment. The irony is that while a lot of energy is spent overseas, Biden’s grip on his own party is tested by two key national laws, an infrastructure bill and the program. social security spending, on which the Liberals of the Democratic Party have strong reservations. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans who had blocked a debt limitation bill came to support the interim legislation proposed as a last-minute compromise by the ruling party. This avoided a government shutdown and debt default, but will only maintain government funding until December. So he’s throwing the box down the road with more deadly Congressional battles to come.
Perhaps because of these internal disturbances, Biden takes a more aggressive stance than expected towards Beijing because it is internationally that he has more leeway. But it also reflects the political consensus in the United States for a tougher stance on Beijing. For their part, Chinese officials see little to distinguish the policies of Trump and Biden on China. On trade, their approach is identical because the tariffs of the Trump era remain intact. Chinese leaders have repeatedly warned the United States against a cold war and see the Biden administration pursuing a strategy of “adversarial competition.” In September, when President Biden had his first telephone conversation with President Xi Jinping in seven months, the Chinese leader reportedly declined Biden’s suggestion to hold a summit meeting, insisting the United States cut back first. their belligerent rhetoric and enhance the atmosphere of such engagement.
Read: UN chief warns China, US to avoid cold war
China’s interest nonetheless lies in maintaining difficult relations because it has a lot to lose from a protracted confrontation. But in the face of a tough American posture, he has little choice but to step back, which he does more and more vigorously. All of this points to more turbulence ahead for the world’s most important relationship as it drifts through uncharted waters in an already unstable geostrategic environment.
The writer is a former ambassador to the United States, the United Kingdom and the UN.
Posted in Dawn, le 4 October 2021