A Joe Biden Presidency would seek to reinvigorate America’s alliances with Countries such as Australia to bolster multilateral bodies and tackle a China that has overstepped the mark, Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power says.
But despite Donald Trump ramping up anti-communist rhetoric and imposing some diplomatic and economic sanctions, the US people have no appetite for conflict with China because of “war fatigue” following the protracted commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Professor Power says.
Appearing on an Australian Strategic Policy Institute webinar, Professor Power said the world was at a crossroads as it grapples with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s “intensification of repression” under President Xi Jinping and the abandonment of leadership under President Trump.
Professor Power was a top foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration, serving as Ambassador to the UN between 2013 and 2017.
As Western governments, most notably the US, struggle to bring the pandemic under control, Professor Power said China’s claims that it had a better economic and governance model had been exposed as the authoritarian regime tries to change the rules of the global road.
“China is increasingly using its economic leverage through the Belt & Road Initiative or providing PPE [personal protective equipment] or maybe hopefully one day providing vaccines to people who need them,” she said.
“But that is not free. For all President Xi’s talk of [the Chinese] ‘model is different, no strings attached, nothing conditional’, there is a quid pro quo it seems associated with this assistance that is now playing out on issues like Hong Kong or the Uighurs or one day, I think, soon issues related to internet freedom within international institutions.
“As China seeks to be not only this model that stands in opposition to [the] democratic model and shows you can get rich and not be free at the same time, and make the case that might be the better model, they are not just doing that within international institutions but they are chipping away slowly, but in an ever more accelerated way, at the norms the rest of us deem as aspirations for human progress.”
President Xi would probably have gone ahead with his strategic aims anyway but America’s leadership retreat under President Trump, in particular his disdain for international bodies and transactional approach to alliances, had created an “enabling environment” for China’s assertiveness.
“When China is rising economically and throwing its weight around, is that the right time to make your allies question your staying power, your bond, your truthfulness, your reliability?” she said.
Professor Power said for Vice President Biden, who polls show has a handy lead over President Trump, addressing the domestic crisis caused by the pandemic would actually be a foreign policy priority because of the global loss of confidence America’s mismanagement had caused.
More broadly, though, Vice President Biden would prioritise “alliances, alliances, alliances” to stand up to China and regenerating multilateral bodies.
“It’s alliances, not only but very much those rooted in shared values,” she said.
“Fundamentally, I think every government is going to look out for its own interests, but I do think our interests and values are merging as China begins to act more aggressively, and it’s incumbent on the United States to become an attractive pole and force in the international system so we are a good convener of the liberal democracies.”