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Biden traded Trump’s go-it-alone approach to China for consensus-building. It might be working

June 15, 2021, 11:11 AM UTC

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President Joe Biden used his swing through Europe this week to urge leaders of the world’s major democracies to rally behind the United States in countering the rising economic and security influence of China.

On Saturday, at a seaside gathering in Cornwall, England, with leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies, Biden won support for a plan that would offer developing nations hundreds of billions of dollars in financing for infrastructure and measures to curtail carbon emissions. The G7 leaders also backed a pledge to supply poorer countries with a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines within the year.

The proposals lacked detail, and there remained disagreement among senior officials from the G7 countries as to how they should be implemented. But it was clear that, in broad terms, the group had coalesced behind a U.S.-led effort to blunt the appeal of the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan to connect China and Europe with a multi-trillion dollar web of roads, railways, ports, and communications networks.

Similarly, the G7’s vaccine commitment was aimed at one-upping China in vaccine diplomacy; to date, Beijing has supplied other nations with about 265 million Chinese-made vaccines, more than all other nations combined, and has promised to provide more than 440 million more.

A 25-page joint statement released by the leaders Sunday called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms” in Xinjiang, the northwestern province that is home to millions of Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, and in Hong Kong, where Beijing last year imposed a sweeping new national security law.

The Wall Street Journal reports that China was the main subject of a 90-minute meeting on Saturday in which “G7 leaders agreed broadly that Beijing was a concern,” although there was considerable haggling over how forcefully to express those concerns in the final communique.

On Monday, Biden traveled to Brussels where, according to Reuters, he urged fellow leaders from the North Atlantic Treaty Organiziation (NATO) to “stand up to China’s authoritarianism and growing military might, a change of focus for an alliance created to defend Europe from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.” Language in the NATO communique issued following that meeting warned explicitly of the military threat posed by China.

“China’s stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” said the statement, which also expressed concern about China’s expanding nuclear arsenal and its military cooperation with Russia.

China denounced statements by both gatherings. On Monday, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London accused the G7 of making “baseless accusations” and demanded that the group “stop slandering China, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop harming China’s interests.” On Tuesday, China’s mission to the European Union blasted the NATO statement as “a misjudgment of the international situation” and a symptom of the alliance’s “Cold War mentality.”

China takes a dim view of the G7, NATO, and a host of other democratic groupings such as “the Quad” (the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India) and the Five Eyes (the intelligence-sharing alliance that includes the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), dismissing them as irrelevant “cliques.”

In a phone call Friday, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi admonished U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for engaging in “psuedo-multilateralism based on the interests of small circles.” Xi instead champions the notion of “big country diplomacy”—that the U.S. and China are essentially the only two world powers that matter, and should sort global affairs between each other rather than entangling lesser powers.

There’s something to that. As Reuters points out, in 1979, when Deng Xiaoping began opening China to outside investment, the nation’s economy was smaller than that of Italy, the G7’s smallest member. Today it is a $15 trillion colossus, and home to some of the world’s leading technologies.

And yet entangling allies is a centerpiece of Biden’s foreign policy—and arguably the most significant difference between his approach to dealing with China and the ‘go it alone’ style of his predecessor, Donald Trump. As The Guardian‘s diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour notes, Biden has marshaled allies large and small in service of a bigger campaign to push back against China on a wide array of issues including human rights, supply chains, support for Hong Kong and Taiwan, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and to press questions about the origins of the pandemic.

The early evidence suggests that campaign may be getting traction.

More Eastworld news below.

Clay Chandler

This edition of Eastworld was curated and produced by Eamon Barrett. Reach him at


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