LONDON – The first overseas trip of Joe Biden’s presidency will be much more than a few smiling photo ops and a well-crafted communiqué.
Many see his appearance at the Group of Seven summit and then at the NATO summit next week as a one-time opportunity: to help mend ties not only with Washington’s broken allies, but also to help America and the West. also to restore the faltering effect of. on one’s own.
The visit will also be marred by the question of whether Biden, for all his trans-Atlantic experience, is really more focused on a growing rival in Beijing than old Cold War allies across the pond.
“After four years of turbulent Trump years, Europeans now have the American leadership they’ve always dreamed of,” said former NATO head of policy planning, Fabrice Pothier. “Except now the story has moved on.”
From Friday to Sunday, Biden and his team will attend the G-7 summit of major industrialized nations, an international spectacle nestled in the small Cornish seaside resort of Carbys Bay in the southwest corner of England.
He will travel to Brussels for a brief NATO summit on Monday before flying to Geneva for a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
Strong words are likely to be included in the meeting with Putin. But the G-7 is where decisions will be made that will shape American international relations and whether or not the world will be made.
The G-7 is a club of post-industrial war allies – the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Japan – that first met in 1975. Russia joined in 1997, making it the G8 before it was kicked off. Accused of attacking Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.
There are four guest countries this year: India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa.
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On the agenda are the global coronavirus response, climate change, trade and technology. But Biden has made it clear that he sees the visit more broadly as an opportunity to rally allies to the cause of liberal democracy, which he sees as a struggle against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s authoritarianism, a feature that Beijing rejects.
The White House says the most immediate way to do this is through the global coronavirus response – as National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan calls “a high-standard, climate-friendly, transparent and regulatory framework for what China is offering.” -based option”. This at a briefing on Monday.
Last year has hardly been an advertisement for the West, as the US and others largely failed to prevent Covid-19 deaths and then only distributed vaccines domestically before agreeing to donate them to poor countries.
Meanwhile, China has controlled the virus within its borders, its economy is booming this year, and has sought to improve its image abroad by donating or selling millions of doses of the vaccine.
If this is, indeed, an inflection point for the West, it comes shortly after many experts wondered whether the G-7 had become obsolete. Then-President Donald Trump wasn’t alone last year when he called it “a very old group of countries”; Critics have said that it is a remnant of the Cold War that is not suitable for dealing with the complex problems of the modern world.
“The world is waiting to see if the G-7 can get the world out of this crisis,” said Leslie Vinzamuri, director of programs for America and America at Chatham House, a London think tank.
“Will the West stand up and lead and, frankly, take a shot at the rest of the world in the arms of all those who desperately need it?” He asked. “If they don’t get it from the United States and Europe, they’re going to look at China and they’re going to look at Russia.”
Global opinion of the US declined in most countries – especially among Washington’s traditional allies – during Trump’s presidency, according to regular polls by the Pew Research Center, a Washington think tank.
Since Biden’s election, “America’s international image has undergone a dramatic change,” Pew said on Thursday, with public opinion of both Biden and America in a dozen major countries since he took office.
Undoubtedly, most European leaders are relieved to see Trump’s back and his tough stance and have welcomed Biden’s enthusiastic multilateralism. But they will still be careful. A big reason is that the powers in Europe appear more reluctant than Biden to take a tough stance on China.
The European Union halted a major investment deal with Beijing in response to allegations of human rights abuses in the western province of Xinjiang, which China denies. But many see the confrontational approach of “together against China” as “adverse”, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech in February.
Even though the investment deal has stalled, economic ties remain deep. For example, China remains Germany’s largest export market.
Some European officials are also cautious about throwing their weight behind Biden when they fear he could be easily replaced in 2024 by Trump or someone like him.
Others question whether Biden’s democratic call to arms is a friendly invitation or more a directive with strings attached.
Europe’s economic clout has faded in recent years as the G7’s share of the global economy has fallen from 80 percent to 40 percent today. Many experts here say that Europe is becoming a more junior partner in trans-Atlantic relations.
Some saw evidence of this imbalance when, with little caveat, Biden supported waiving intellectual property rights for vaccines this year. It was strange when German Chancellor Angela Merkel came out against the move.
European experts know that “the US’s strategic focus isn’t on Europe at all — it’s on the bigger, much more complicated game going on with China,” said Pothier, now an advisory senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Huh. London think tank.
Covid-19 looms large
“I think it’s no exaggeration to say that Friday’s G-7 is a life-and-death affair,” former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at an event hosted by Chatham House this week. “Its decision will determine who is vaccinated and is safe and who remains unvaccinated and is at risk of dying.”
After vaccinating large parts of his population, Biden and some of his aides have promised to begin donating millions of doses overseas.
Brown is among those who fear that, while the G-7 is likely to make progress on vaccine donation, it will not go far enough, allowing China and Russia to vigorously promote their policy of vaccine diplomacy.
“After a year when international cooperation failed hopelessly, we are at a critical juncture – where history may or may not change,” Brown said.
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