The new US administration: Obama 2.0, Trump 2.0 or Biden 1.0-Multilateralism without the USA

The new US administration: Obama 2.0, Trump 2.0 or Biden 1.0-Multilateralism without the USA

The reactions to the new Biden administration were mixed. We want to give a short review of the most extreme positions.

An outstanding article about the Bide administration is on the blog section of  the think tank of the Russian foreign ministery RIAC.  Main thesis. Independent from Biden or Trump, globalization leads to megaregions by other forces than the USA, a process that even with a Biden government will continue. Therefore “multilateralism without the USA” was ecisting, independent from US goverments and politically and economically mega regions with sub regions will occur:  

“Multilateralism Without the USA

February 8, 2021

Multilateralism can happen without a hegemonic power (the USA)

It has already done so for a long time. As I have described earlier: „Nobody waits for Biden“ (or the USA). The World is everywhere moving fast around the USA – leaving an ever more bewildered USA behind. US President Biden doesn’t get it. Biden still lives in his inner past experiences of the Cold War and the subsequent American World Order – both gone worlds.

Developments of the past three years

Here are some recent events, which highlight this strategic development:

1. The CPTPP was driven through by the other countries in 2018, after Trump putting “America First” jumped it. This now leaves Biden in a dilemma with his Trump mimic of Buy American (first).

2. The EU-MERCOSUR trade agreement was agreed in June 2019. A true multilateral agreement, not between countries, but between blocks of countries, two of the World’s Mega-Regions.

3. The Brazil-China trade pact in 2019, a result of over 10 years of strategic partnership. Brazil-China is an indicative case of a growing Mega-Region to Mega-Region multilateral cooperation as it involves most of South America. For example, it drives ambitious transcontinental South American infrastructure plans, which include to connect Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia with the growing Pacific shipping between Peru and China. Speak of “BRI Latino”.

4. The RCEP was initiated and in 2020 driven to conclusion by the ASEAN – not by China. The US is out. RCEP unites a complex of relationships between ASEAN, China, Japan, Korea, and Australia.

5. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was driven through by the EU with China in the very last days of 2020, on 28 December – directly against the USA. China opens opportunities with the CAI agreement, while the USA diminishes with “Buy American”. Cars are a good illustration. China is a far bigger car market than the USA. With 25 million cars sold in 2019, China’s car market is nearly 50% bigger than the US car market. This perfectly illustrates China’s trade potential vs. the USA. China’s car market is not only so much bigger – China may double. In contrast, the USA car market completely stagnates. No, China did not just “drive a wedge” between the EU and the USA with the CAI agreement – the EU wants it. To be competitive in products like cars, the EU needs to be in China. The US loses out by staying out. The EU wants factories in China.

6. China, Russia, and Turkey make big agreements without the USA. Russia and Turkey decide on peace and the whole future of places like Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving the USA in the cold. They deal with Iran very much as they want.

7. India this year presses harder for an EU trade agreement. That the EU recently made the CAI agreement with China does not keep India away from seeking business with the EU. We see complex multilateral relations develop, not involving the USA.

8. The EU just decided (with China surely agreeing) to make the Euro a world-currency everywhere outside the USA. Here, the EU acts in direct contradiction to the American „Longer Telegram“ which is clearly US President Biden’s China strategy. In Biden’s “Longer Telegram” China strategy, Biden wants a supreme dollar hegemony. Biden also wants dollar hegemony to run mammoth US deficits. Nobody else needs that. The EU wants to protect itself financially against the USA, including the possible US takeovers of leading EU tech companies. China is on – USA falls off.

More examples – a long-term trend

On top of the recent eight examples above, there is a range of multilateral developments which for several years have been running, fully independently of the USA. A good example is the complex EU-Russia-China cooperation the past decade which has created an exceptionally efficient railroad corridor of over 11,000 km from Chongqing to Duisburg. Not just without the US – even against the US. The Eurasian Landbridge railroad system is a great example of the emerging new multilateralism not involving the USA. It started in the early 2010’s and a decade later, it now involves more than the Mega-Region to Mega-Region level of EU, Eurasia, and China. It spreads out to individual EU and Central Asian countries. It furthers sprawling public as well as private business. And it is increasingly multitiered, involving Mega-Regional, Regional, national, and subnational authorities like Chinese province governments. We also have the Nord Stream gas cooperation Germany-Russia. Even against US sanctions. Imagine US reactions, if the EU for “climate-security” had tried to sanction against the US-Canada Keystone XL pipeline. Coming up, we have the strategic multilateral Africa-Europe partnership between the EU and the African Union (the AU). This is a growing multi-sectoral Mega-Regional cooperation involving trade, jobs, security, immigration, digital development, green transition etc. The USA is not involved. These examples all confirm the fast proliferation of successful multilateral agreements, cooperation, and understandings actively involving several of the World’s Regions – except the USA.

North American developments

The deepening of Canada’s multilateral cooperation to EU with the CETA trade deal in 2017 is also indicative of global cooperations increasing all the way round the USA – leaving the US rather alone. Instead of strengthening North American relations, the USA repeatedly sinks relations with its only two neighbors. The new North American free trade agreement USMCA has harder “local content” requirements and is thus substantially less favorable to Canada and Mexico than the NAFTA which is replaced. For instance, auto parts must now have 75% North American content. The USMCA also widely mandates a minimum wage in Mexico and Canada of 16 dollars/hour – the current US minimum wage is only 7.25 dollars. Even President Biden’s proposed minimum wage of 15 dollars/hour will still be one dollar less than what the USMCA mandates US neighbors – making unskilled Mexican workers uncompetitive. Canada’s steel exports are the biggest victim of US steel-sanctions aimed at China, ostensibly for “security reasons”. A hard hit on Canadian (and S.Korean) steel workers, which are military partners with the USA. And there is no sign that President Biden will reverse US protectionism. Recently, US President Biden with the stroke of his pen on a presidential order, unilaterally makes lost money out of 30 billions which Canada has at stake in the Keystone XL pipeline to the USA. Biden delivers a gut punch to Canada. President Biden’s “Buy America” order forbids not only allied EU, Japanese and Korean suppliers, but also Canadian and Mexican companies to supply the US government. Biden breaks multilateral commitments to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) under the WTO. Canada and Mexico are consistently being alienated by the USA and will increasingly need multilateral ties with others: The EU – and China.

Theoretical underpinnings

Multilateralism without a hegemonic power (USA) has not only been happening for a long time – it even accelerates enormously, independently of the USA. The World is NOT waiting for newly elected US President Biden and his national security advisor Jake Sullivan with his “Longer Telegram” misconceptions. We see the emergence of the Mega-Regions, which I identified and described last year

The World’s Mega-Regions integrate internally – and they make deals with each other externally. The USA is a single exemption to the development of Mega-Regions. Instead of integrating North America into a Mega-Region of shared governance, a “Buy America First” USA continues to consistently split itself from its two neighbors Mexico and Canada. The World of Regions is much-much more geopolitically complex than the bipolar or unipolar World ever were. The rules have changed – again. It is an entirely different reality from the obsolete imaginations of US President Biden and his team. As I stated in an interview of 7 January, published 21 January 2021 – Biden and the USA have much narrower space for maneuver than Biden and his team understand. The previous examples demonstrate how the new Regional World structure is radically more composite and multitiered than the bipolar or unipolar worlds were. Inside Mega-Regions you have other Regions. And in them even smaller Regions (sometimes criss-crossing). It is like the dolls inside dolls of the smiling Babushka nesting dolls, which I used in the picture with the USA marching off to its own perfect storm. (correctly, Matryoshka dolls)“

Commentators on Jimmy Lai´s influential Hongkong opposition newspaper The Apple Daily as Wu Zuolai see the Biden administration as continuation of Obama´s engagement policy, seperceive it as appeasement policy and as the Falungon, Guo Wengui, the Trumptites see the new administration including Secretary of State Blinken influenced and infiltrated by pro-Chinese lobby groups.

“Biden not hostile towards CCP anymore?Wu Zuolai

Published (HKT): 2021.02.10 09:47

When delivering his first speech about US foreign policy at a meeting of the Department of State last Thursday, US President Biden said the government would counter attacks launched by China on human rights, intellectual property rights and global governance, but he switched the focus all of a sudden saying: “We are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so.” He no longer takes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the most dangerous enemy, but rather names China US’s “most serious competitor”.

They will “work with” Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so. If it were in both America’s and CCP’s interest, but not the Chinese people’s interest, would the Biden administration work with Beijing? Does the US prioritize national interest, human rights or justice? In fact, there is not much difference between national interest-orientedness and America first billed by Trump. It is just that the China policy adopted by Biden is more appeasing, sparing room for cooperation, while Trump, who had become disappointed and then desperate after rounds of negotiations and wrestles with the CCP, struck back.

Who chuckles over Biden rising to power? An article named “Though room for saving Sino-US relations pops up, patience is needed” by Wei Zongyou, a professor of the Center for American Studies(CAS) at Fudan University, puts the heartfelt wishes of the Chinese authorities bluntly: “That the Trump administration exerted pressure on, delinked from and offended China on issues such as economic affairs, trade, technologies, exchange of human affairs, the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Xinjiang even pushed the two countries into being hostile towards one another. So, after Biden won the election, those concerned about Sino-US relations heaved a sigh of relief.”

By comparison, the part of the speech concerning Russia-US relations is way more specific and antagonistic, taking Russia as America’s number one enemy: “American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.” He said Russia interfered in the US election, and persecuted dissident leader Alexei Navalny. But when it comes to China or the CCP, only veneer is found without a mention of the most serious infringement of human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, political criminals under torture and the CCP concealing the pandemic conditions. Being harsh to one while lenient with the other has shown how accommodating Biden is in taking care of the CCP.

Chinese warplanes crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait recently was obviously an attempt made by Xi Jinping to feel out how the Biden regime would react. The coup staged by Myanmar’s military caused a sensation worldwide. When the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a vote on issuing a condemnation of it, only China cast a vote to object to it.

The stability in the Taiwan Strait and the safety of Taiwan hinges on US warships unilaterally holding fast to the existing rules and regulations, and lip service like the verbal condemnation of the coup in Myanmar issued by the UNSC is simply of no avail. In the crisis of the North Korea nuclear weapons test, Trump resorted to force for problems that couldn’t be solved verbally by getting out of the relentless multilateral meetings and drew a red line for Kim Jong-eun. Consequently, a peaceful period was made possible on Korean Peninsula. Biden is now at a loss what to do about the Myanmar issue. Actually, the newborn democracy in Myanmar toppled amounts to the democratic front in the Indo-Pacific region crushed by the CCP, which is what US Indo-Pacific strategy should be concerned about.

Biden declared: America is back. German Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly defined her stand on the China issue that she would not take sides. French President Emmanuel Macron has recently expressed that despite the values the European Union (EU) holds dear skewed towards Washington, D.C., the former should not gang up with the latter to tackle China. Like Biden, US’s long-term allies in Europe zero in on national interest rather than a stance on values, which is tantamount to defining their relationships with the CCP by national interests.

As the so-called multinational and associated allies do not appear to be working as one, in what an awkward situation will the so-called patience articulated by Biden be mired? Matthew Pottinger, former US Deputy National Security Advisor, said that former US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer demonstrated a picture to the Cabinet in 2017 that showed “though the US and China have got bogged down in various dialogues over the past 20 years, the US trade deficit with China and the infringement of intellectual property rights by China (CCP) have kept escalating”. Pottinger warned the Biden government against falling prey to Beijing, and that if Biden’s patience with the CCP is a loop that lasts for four years, he does not only frame himself up with unrighteousness, but also sacrifice US’s national interest.

CCP skilled in signing treaties it won’t make good

The CCP is skilled in engaging in united front and infiltrating, making use of interests to crumble rivals’ multilateral association. It is also good at signing treaties it will never make good, then putting off resolutions to problems through innumerous meetings. Since the market of 1.4 billion people are coveted by multinational capitals, the capitals owners will voluntarily persuade their own governments to succumb to the CCP. Even if they bring up CCP’s rising economy and technological strength, they will blind a blind eye to it.

The Trump administration separated the CCP from the Chinese people. Some opines that the Biden administration is going to disunite Xi Jinping from the CCP. Can Biden force Xi Jinping to change his mind or step down by working with his allies worldwide to deprive Xi of the right to speak up in the international community, or stop him from entering European countries and the US?

Facts will prove disuniting Xi from the CCP a stupid joke in the springtime of 2021.

(Wu Zuolai, an academic sojourning in America)

However, this comment was rejected afew days later on Apple by the commentatorLai I-chung, Executive Committee Member of Taiwan Thinktank, who praised Biden´s new China policy. It was neither Obama 2.0, nor Trump 2.0, but Biden 1.0 and no appeasement Biden clearly supported Taiwan and emocratic forces, sent an aircraft carrier group and resisted Chinese wolf warrior doplocmacy. Maybe not by rhethoric like Trump, but clearly and undoubtly. Biden would also act with the allies and through the allies to put pressure on China than just bilateral:

“Biden 1.0—downplaying new China-US relationsLai I-chung

Taiwan-US relations during the Trump era were too good to be true. Having experienced that, Taiwan’s diplomatic circles are skeptical about Joe Biden’s policies towards China and US-Taiwan relations after he took office as US President. Biden has mentioned that the tough policies towards China will continue, while his team has repeatedly proclaimed that the US’s strategically competitive relationship with China will not change and the US’s support for Taiwan will not be shaken. During a Senate confirmation hearing, Antony Blinken expressed his support for Donald Trump’s attitudes towards Taiwan, although he disagreed with the Trump administration’s approach. Nevertheless, many political observers in Taiwan remain skeptical.

Judging from the actions taken by Biden after he took office, however, we can be certain that while Biden will not be Trump 2.0 in terms of the relations between the US, China and Taiwan, he will absolutely not be Obama 2.0 either. There is every reason for Taiwan to be hopeful about the policies of Biden 1.0 towards Taiwan and China.

Following a large-scale incursion by Chinese fighter jets into Taiwan between 23rd and 24th January and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s warning that Taiwan’s independence would mean war, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, delivered a speech to the “National Committee on United States-China Relations” on 2nd February, stressing that China expected to build a new type of international relations based on the principles of mutual respect, equality, justice, win-win cooperation and the establishment of a community with shared future for mankind. He also expressed hope for the construction of a bilateral relationship between the US and China that is free of conflicts, non-confrontational, mutually respectful and mutually beneficial. He also declared that issues concerning China’s sovereignty and territory such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang are regarded by China as red lines that must not be crossed.

Following allies into China

But the Biden administration’s reaction was very much different from Obama’s. Not only did the State Department immediately warn against China warplanes’ intimidation and harassment of Taiwan, but it also vowed that its commitment to Taiwan is “rock-solid”. The US Department of Defense also immediately hit back at China’s statement that Taiwan’s independence would mean war. The Biden administration even delivered a sting of punches on Yang Jiechi’s speech. First, in its daily press conference on 3rd February, the spokesperson of the State Council demanded that China immediately stop its suppression of Taiwan on military, economic and diplomatic fronts, and that it should begin meaningful dialogues with Taiwan’s democratically elected leader. Then the US Indo-Pacific Command also announced that the USS John S. McCain, a destroyer, had passed through the Taiwan Strait in the morning that day (3rd February).

On 4th February, Biden said, without mincing words, in his foreign policy speech that China is the most serious competitor, and the US will counter China in the fields of the economy, human rights, intellectual property and global governance as well as respond to China’s coercive actions (on the region). On 5th February Antony Blinken, the US Secretary for State, spoke with Yang during a phone conference, during which he reconfirmed that the US would work with its allies and partners to protect their shared values and interests in the face of China’s threats to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific (including the Taiwan Strait). In other words, within three days of Yang’s speech, the US made strong responses through the President, the State Council and the Department of Defense.

The way the Biden administration has responded to China has three characteristics. First, even though not all of the Biden administration’s officials have been sworn in, the speed at which the Biden administration has responded to statements made by China shows that the message conveyed by the Senate hearings attended by Biden’s team, i.e., China will be the most important diplomatic focus of the Biden administration, are not without substance. Second, the Biden administration tackles issues related to China with a “whole of government” approach, and a certain degree of coordination begins to emerge. This shows the mindset that its strategies for the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea are part of a master plan.

Third, despite the suggestions of outsiders and China’s operations behind closed doors, Biden has yet to talk with Xi Jinping on the phone. But he has spoken with the US’s allies in Europe and Asia. Such a fact shows that the US’s policies towards China is about taking the path of “entering China through allies” instead of letting US-China and cross-strait relations in the Pacific determine the US’s Indo-Pacific strategies.

Furthermore, judging from the substance of the Biden administration’s response to China, we can see that Biden no longer sees the issue of the Taiwan Strait as a controversy originating from Taiwan’s and China’s disagreements on unification or independence. The US will vehemently oppose China’s suppression of Taiwan in terms of the erosion of democracy, economic intimidation and diplomatic suppression. While in the past the focus was on China’s military threats to Taiwan and the US turned a blind eye to China’s diplomatic blockade of Taiwan, that is no longer the case. We can see traces of the US’s assistance concerning the proposed creation of Taiwan’s office in Guyana. This shows that while the US under Biden will stick to the “One China” policy, the Biden administration also supports Taiwan diplomatically compared with the Trump administration.

Some people argue that the Biden administration changed its stance on the Guyana issue within just 24 hours and its response was not as good as what the Trump administration did before. However, back then the Trump administration was dealing with countries severing ties with Taiwan, while the Biden administration is facing the issue of a new office being cancelled. These are fundamentally different issues. However, the Biden administration’s stance that it supports Taiwan’s development of (informal) relations with other countries is a very clear one. But at such a sensitive time, it has to keep a low profile.

Unexpectedly friendly towards Taiwan

It is obvious that Biden is indifferent to the idea of a new type of relations between China and the US as proposed by Xi Jinping. He is not in a hurry to talk or meet with Xi. No doubt Biden does not see China as an ideological enemy, but it is impossible for US-China relations to return to the Obama era, during which the US attempted to build “strategic reassurance” with China. The two sides crossed swords just two weeks after Biden was sworn into office, and Biden was not at a disadvantage. Quite the contrary, the domineering confidence that the two major powers of China and the US will rule the world jointly, as displayed by Yang in his speech, and China’s absolute lack of remorse for its cover-up at the early stage make the world suspect that China will become even more invasive in the post-pandemic era. Yang’s speech displays a kind of self-importance that shows China looks down on countries such as India.

Since Biden was sworn into office, his tough stance on China and support for Taiwan seem to have taken China by surprise. It can be seen that the relations between the US, China and Taiwan and Indo-Pacific relations could develop in ways far beyond the imaginations of China and Taiwan.

(Lai I-chung, Executive Committee Member of Taiwan Thinktank)

Biden and any other US administration first has to recreate trust , repair the damaged relations with offended allies, won´t be able to repair the Pax America of the 50s or the unipolar moment of the 90s. However, while the USA won´t become that strong and great again, the multipolar world is still in a transistion period and the USA will remain a great power, maybe even the number 1. And Chinese peaceful rise is also not an automatism if you look at the demographic trends and the own warnings of the CP China´s mouth piece Global Times:

Falling birth rates in China »Nobody wants to have children anymore« Far fewer children were born in China in 2020 than in the previous year.

Because of the falling birth rates, experts warn in the world’s most populous country against aging – and fear for economic growth. For decades, China has tried a one-child policy to control population growth in the country. However, those times are long gone. The birth rate in the People’s Republic is falling significantly. Last year the number of births fell dramatically to an „alarming“ low. Compared to the previous year, 15 percent fewer newborns were officially registered, reported the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing. The number fell from 11.79 to 10.04 million. Experts warned of an aging population in the world’s most populous country, which is progressing much faster than expected. That will slow down the growth of the second largest economy.

 According to the statistics office, the annual birth rate had already reached its lowest level since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 in 2019. The reasons given were the high costs for education and housing in China. The number of marriages is also falling, while the divorce rate is high in China. Many couples also wait to get married and do not start families until later. The repeal of the one-child policy had only led to a slight increase The repeal of the one-child policy, which has been in force since 1979, resulted in only a slight increase in births in 2016, but the number has continued to fall every year since then. The exact extent of the decline will be revealed in April, when the statistics office wants to present the figures for 2020.

Experts pointed out that the reported number of newly requested residence registrations (hukou) does not reflect all births, as many babies are also not registered. The developments are being watched with concern. „Nobody wants to have children,“ said family planning expert and well-known author Yi Fuxian from the American University of Wisconsin to the dpa news agency in Beijing. The decades-long one-child policy had „changed people’s concept of fertility.“ „People have got used to having only one child,“ said Yi Fuxian. „The concept is deeply rooted and difficult to change.“

The expenditures to raise children in China are also higher than even in more progressive economies like Taiwan or South Korea. „On the one hand, the divorce rate in China is high, on the other hand the marriages are declining,“ said Yi Fuxian. „That is very worrying.“ He warned of the economic consequences of aging and the decline of the working population. „When the workforce gets smaller, the economy begins to decline,“ said the expert. China’s growth will level off. According to estimates, growth in China between 2030 and 2035 will be slower than in the USA, said Yi Fuxian. „It will be impossible to replace the USA as the largest economy.“ Experts also pointed out that fewer people in work in China have to take care of more and more older people. Today every fifth Chinese is over 60 years old.

The newspaper »Global Times«, which is published by the communist party organ »People´s Daily«, spoke of a »warning threshold« which had been undercut with only ten million registered newborns


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