Biden’s dichotomous foreign policy has divided the world

Posted on : 2021-12-31 09:36 KST Modified on : 2021-12-31 09:36 KST
The diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing has been a wedge among the US’ allies
US President Joe Biden steps outside after visiting a church in the Washington area. (Reuters/Yonhap News)
US President Joe Biden steps outside after visiting a church in the Washington area. (Reuters/Yonhap News)

“It’s year-ender season, so I would ask you, what does the [Joe Biden] administration consider your biggest achievement in foreign policy in this first year? And also, what lessons have you learned from what is arguably the biggest failure, which is Afghanistan?”

“You know, this is a great question. I want to be thoughtful about it. I want to talk to the president about it, and I’m happy to do that.”

When an expected question came up at a regular White House press conference on Dec. 14, the normally eloquent press secretary Jen Psaki was obliged to hedge, ducking out of providing a direct answer.

The question that stumped her asked what the Joe Biden administration views as its greatest foreign policy achievement over the past year since it overcame the chaos of predecessor Donald Trump’s administration and declared America to be “back.”

The whole world had been hoping that Biden — considered a foreign policy expert, with many years of experience as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair and vice president — would end Trump’s era of confusion and restore order through rational leadership.

But for the past year, US foreign relations have been a parade of chaos, illustrated in the withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August. Some analysts are commenting that the “excessive sense of mission” that Biden has been showing when it comes to democracy and human rights has ended up hamstringing the US.

Shortly after taking office, Biden attended the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, where he declared humankind to be at an “inflection point” between democracy and autocracy.

“The United States will work closely with our European Union partners and the capitals across the continent — from Rome to Riga — to meet the range of shared challenges we face,” he pledged.

But if we understand the strategic conflict between the US and China to be a black-and-white, good vs. evil battle between democracy and autocracy, that precludes the possibility of diplomatic compromise.

This aspect of Biden was in clear view in a stunning Q&A exchange on the ABC network on March 17. There, he was asked whether he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin — someone he will need to maintain a harmonious relationship with if he intends to focus on the rivalry with China — was a “killer” who murders his political enemies.

“I do,” Biden replied.

He reiterated his beliefs about an “inflection point” when the US hosted the Summit for Democracy on Dec. 9 and 10, dividing the world’s 7.8 billion people into the 4.4 billion who live in participating countries, and the 3.4 billion who live in the non-participating countries. US-China relations have soured even further amid Beijing’s vehement protests over being framed as “the bad guys” — but it’s not clear what the US actually has to show for it diplomatically.

If the Summit for Democracy split the world in two based on a frame of ideology, then the diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing has been a wedge among the allies who have thrown their lot in with the US.

Citing human rights suppressions in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur region, the Biden administration declared on Dec. 6 that while the US would be sending athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing, it would not be sending a government delegation.

The countries that proceeded to announce their plans to join in the diplomatic boycott were the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan. This means that only Japan and the other members of the Five Eyes — an intelligence-sharing alliance of Anglophone countries with close ties to the US — went along with the boycott.

Based on that, The Hill declared on Sunday that the diplomatic boycott was “already showing signs of being a limited success.”

France, which missed out on the opportunity to export nuclear-powered submarines to Australia due to the launch of AUKUS, declined to take part, citing its opposition to using sports competitions to highlight concerns over human rights. South Korean President Moon Jae-in similarly said on Dec. 13 that Seoul was not considering a diplomatic boycott.

In response to the varied responses among allies, the White House said that the decision was each individual country’s prerogative. But for South Korea, it poses no small diplomatic burden when neighboring Japan has declared its intent to actively take part in the boycott.

In remarks before Congress on Dec. 15, US Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, urged France to “join us, as you have over time, in standing for human rights.” Fellow Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal told The Hill that he was “deeply concerned that our allies seem less determined than we are to stop China from using [the Olympics] as a huge propaganda win.”

Some analysts have adopted the very US-centric view that a lack of unity among allies will ultimately work to China’s advantage.

Mary Gallagher, director of the International Institute at the University of Michigan, was quoted as saying the diplomatic boycott “kind of highlights to China where there is disagreement and who isn’t willing to stand behind the United States when it takes these actions.”

By Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter

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