Ever since Joe Biden was elected, hope has burgeoned that the West would quickly heal itself, with the US, in Biden’s own nostalgia-tinged words, “back at the head of the table”.
Evoking the old frame of a Washington-centred world, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan went so far as to chivvy the bloc to defer its China deal, seven years in the making. Clearly, the EU needed “coordination” with the White House, he said on Twitter.
By declining the summons, the EU showed it sees itself as a superpower in its own right, at least in trade. For requisitions by US presidents, be they liberal or populist, it has no time. Sovereign powers think, decide and are ready to act on their own….
Given China’s size and interconnectedness with Europe, a strategic policy of non-engagement hardly deserves the label “strategic”. We share a planet and a 1.3 billion people state will not magically disappear.
How can we get Xi to combat global warming? Is there any country that does not in some way bracket its systemic rivalry with Beijing?
Australia, New Zealand and Japan, proud democracies all, are no friends of China. It did not stop them from inking their own trade deal with China, only days after the Biden’s election.
Biden himself could have pledged to terminate or at least re-open the Phase One deal, for example to get Beijing to ratify fundamental ILO conventions. To the delight of Wall Street bankers, he vowed to maintain the status quo.
It was inevitable that Trump’s successor would be hailed as the ‘Great Healer’ of the West.
But Joe Biden’s tragedy is that he turned himself into the symbol of a pipedream. He talks about democracy, values and global leadership, even as the US’ standing in the world plunges to yet greater depths. Strongman Xi he calls a “thug”.
It is firm language, and not a word we are likely to hear from Charles Michel or Ursula von der Leyen, or from Macron or Merkel.
Still, for now, what they say about China sounds incalculably more strategic and savvy.
This opinion piece was published by the EUobserver on January 11, 2021, and the complete article can be found here:
Hans Kribbe is the author of The Strongmen: European Encounters with Sovereign Power.