The COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis, and a divided country. These are mammoth challenges facing President-elect Joe Biden as he puts together his agenda and assembles his team.
During the past four years and even stretching back into the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump wholeheartedly promoted a diplomatic and isolationist strategy that has drastically affected the United States’ relations with the rest of the world. This has resulted in sore feelings with traditional allies, and a trade war with China that has affected countless U.S. businesses whose products are now being tariffed to the extent that they are not competitive in the Chinese market.
During the latest presidential campaign, Biden advocated for a multi-lateral approach to diplomacy and trade – in almost all areas the polar opposite of the strategy pursued by the Trump administration.
His choice of Antony Blinken as secretary of state is a strong message that this is exactly what his administration plans to do. Blinken is a former deputy secretary of state with a long history of foreign policy experience. During his career, he has strongly advocated a world view of issues and a multi-lateral approach to solving them. This doesn’t mean that he and Biden won’t put the U.S.’s interests first when conducting foreign policy; however, they will both be taking the more traditional approach that the U.S. has adopted since World War II.
And what course of action will Biden and his team take as regards China? The vast majority of the American public, and industry in general, view China as a threat to our economic welfare and security. Biden will need the wisdom of Solomon to keep pressure on China to operate in good faith and to undertake meaningful progress on hot button issues such as bilateral trade and climate change.
While Trump has vilified China and publicly rebuked that country to the extent of trying to brand COVID-19 as the “China Virus,” for those expecting Biden to take a softer approach to China they may be surprised. During his tenure as vice president, Biden spent a lot of time with Chinese leader Xi Jinping discussing issues such as trade and human rights. During the presidential campaign, Biden called Chinese leader Xi Jinping “a thug.” Even though rhetoric and tough talk loom heavily during campaigns, it is hard to un-call somebody “a thug.” Biden has touted himself as a dealmaker. Nowhere will these skills be needed more than bringing China to the table to get things done.
As to Europe and the members of the European Union – strong, traditional allies of the U.S. – Biden will need to repair relationships that were badly damaged under the Trump administration in areas such as trade and cooperation against renegade countries.
However, here is where Biden can make great strides in a quick time period. European leaders know how critical it is that they maintain a strong relationship with the U.S. in terms of trade and security.
Trump started his presidency by harshly criticizing the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was formed after World War II to protect its members’ security and freedom, for their financial contributions to the organization. He complained that the U.S. was shouldering the lion’s share of NATO’s budget, while allies in Europe were not living up to their pre-agreed contributions. His criticism was seen as a crack in the alliance, which if not repaired, could put members in a dangerous situation.
Upon Biden being elected, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “He knows Germany and Europe well. I remember good encounters and conversations with him. America and Germany, as part of the European Union, must stand together to deal with the great challenges of our time.” Merkel then proceeded to state that Europe would take on more responsibility during a Biden administration. This is a strong signal that the U.S. can quickly hit the reset button as to changing the direction of the currently frayed diplomatic relations with our European allies.
With Russia, Biden must strongly demonstrate to the world that his administration will not tolerate Russian interference in our elections or democracy. While Trump negated the evidence presented to him by his national security team about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, and their attempts during the 2020 campaign, Biden has the opportunity to put the hurt on this and other would-be interferers that behavior of this type will be met with strong economic sanctions which will exact a heavy price.
Finally, as to our North American trade partners, which we depend on to economically compete against other regions of the world, Biden must do away with threats and vitriol and use diplomacy to restore trust and cooperation. Our integrated economies, shared borders, common security interests, and immigration issues with Mexico and Canada are prime examples of why unilateral policies do not work in today’s world. Both the Mexicans and Canadians value diplomacy with their large neighbor, and restoring this will sow rewards in many areas.
While these are gargantuan goals, Biden can take advantage of the change factor and move forth quickly. The issues above wait for nobody, but Biden can get some short-term wins if he uses his experience and acts strategically.
Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.