The Kremlin flushed with indignation. Putin suggested, in the midst of a diplomatic storm between Moscow and Washington, that Biden was looking in the mirror, and suggested that he look at American crimes – from slavery practices to genocide against the Native American population or to atomic bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Russian leader challenged Biden to a debate and said that the only thing he had to answer was to wish him “good health”.
The new head of the White House thus confirmed the promise, so often repeated, of “hard hand” with Moscow. Biden said that “price” would soon be known, but experts are betting on a new sanction package with potentially devastating effects on the Russian economy. Biden’s words and the expectation of further sanctions had the immediate effect of a fall in the ruble’s exchange rate against the dollar, and a climate of nervousness in the Russian financial markets.
For now, the White House has urged companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to immediately cease their participation in the project, otherwise they will be subject to sanctions. Joe Biden repeated that the pipeline, intended to increase Russian gas supplies to Germany, was a “bad idea” for both Europe and the United States, a Russian plan to “divide Europe and weaken European energy security” .
Three days later, on March 19, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan traveled to Alaska to meet with a Chinese delegation that included senior Communist Party officials and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. This was the first high-level meeting between the two countries in the Biden era.
Beijing had high expectations for the meeting, seeing it as a first step in repairing relations between the two countries, relaxation after years of tension during the term of Donald Trump and Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, he spoke of a “high-level strategic dialogue” and a healthy “normalization” of relations between the two countries.
Antony Blinken clearly came up with other ideas. Without ceremony, the American Secretary of State pointed the finger at Beijing and accused China of “threatening order based on rules that maintain international stability”, notably in situations like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.
American military officials also warn of the threat of a military conflict with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rebellious province and has long been a critical point in relations between the United States and China.
Blinken, who had completed an Asian pilgrimage a few days earlier, including Tokyo and Seoul in particular, said he had returned with renewed commitments with a “common vision” of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, while accusing China of using ” coercion and aggression “to achieve your goals.
Japan and the United States warned, in a joint statement, that they would not tolerate China’s “destabilizing behavior”. They expressed their objections to “illegal” claims to the waters and islands of the seas of southern China, where Beijing unilaterally occupied territories claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and other neighboring countries.
Washington thus wants to clearly signal to Beijing that it has the capacity to mobilize allies in the area to oppose Chinese ambitions, namely through the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) group, an alliance that brings together the United States, Japan, India and Australia – there is talk of a forthcoming accession by South Korea -, with no direct military dimension, but with a strong security component.
NATO “is back”
Given the message to Beijing, Blinken has since met in Brussels with heads of allied diplomacy, reiterating “America’s full commitment to NATO, including Article 5” – the common defense mechanism – and ensuring that the new American administration intends to reinforce its commitment to the alliances and allies of the United States.
In a “sympathetic” gesture, Blinken omitted the call, ritually repeated by successive administrations, and with particular vehemence by Donald Trump that the allies increase their military spending to 2% of national income.
In this renewed “commitment” Blinken insisted that the decisions will be collective, but he did not fail to give some notes to the agenda of the Atlantic allies in the near future.
As for Russia, Biden had already delivered the message. Antony Blinken called for a firm and shared position of the allies to ensure that Russia will be held responsible for its “hostile and reckless actions”. He also condemned, on behalf of NATO, the “destabilization” of neighboring countries and the Kremlin’s efforts to influence elections and support cyber attacks. He recalled in this regard that “in response to Russian actions, the Atlantic Alliance implemented the greatest effort in the collective defense of our generation”, in reference to the Alliance’s military device along Russia’s borders.
The US Secretary of State also denounced China’s “coercive behavior” and assured that “it is out of the question to allow Beijing’s behavior to threaten our collective security and prosperity” and accused China of intending / trying to “undermine the rules of the international system and the values that we and our allies share”.
At the same time, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that competition with China offers “a unique opportunity to open a new chapter in the relationship between the United States and Europe” – in an apparent reference to the Atlantic Alliance’s problem of finding a mobilizing “enemy”, a new raison d’être after the demise of the Soviet adversary.
“Us or them”
As for China, Antony Blinken told the allies that he will not force them to make “us or them” decisions, in apparent reference to dilemmatic aspects of the issue for European allies with strong economic commitments to the Chinese, but he clearly called for “joint action” by allies against Beijing’s “aggressive behavior”. The message did not fall on deaf ears. Europe has joined the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada in imposing sanctions on China for alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region.
These American diplomacy initiatives seem to give important hints about some fundamental principles of the foreign policy of the Biden Administration. The fundamental message left by Blinken at the Alaskan meeting is that the United States does not recognize China as a partner on the international scene, and that relations will proceed according to the rules decided by Washington.
A policy that has been around for a long time. It was exactly the line taken towards Russia after Vladimir Putin came to power in the face of the ambition to see Russia recognized as a full member of the international scene.
Since the 1990s, American strategic documentation has insisted that one of the great objectives of American politics in the world was to prevent the emergence of a peer competitor – that is, a power – adversary or ally – capable of meeting America on an equal footing.
In short, the new American administration seems to be preparing the conditions for a return to the “great consensus” of the Clinton era, in which Washington obtained the allies’ consent to American strategic objectives.
It remains to be seen whether it will be possible to reconstruct the geopolitical picture of the “unipolar era”. The China issue poses delicate dilemmas for Europe. And if European allies have shown irreproachable discipline towards Russia, the issue also causes divisions among Europeans.
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