Biden is showing a markedly different approach in foreign policy by comparison to former president Donald Trump. Biden has been criticized by the media for being weak on both China and Russia. However, I see him as weak on China and tough on Russia, though Putin sees weakness in him. Biden vowed to be tougher on both countries, with Democrats continually bringing up Russia collusion stories. The best thing to come out of the collusion accusations were not facts, but Trump x Putin fan-fictions and satire. Look on YouTube or the Internet for such entertainment. I do not believe that there ever was such collusion, but the idea of them together romantically always really made me laugh. So the real question is how tough Trump was on China and Russia and how Biden is doing in comparison.
Trump on China
Trump began his term by launching the trade war with China he promised on the campaign trail. By mid-2020, Trump was no longer in the forefront of Chinese policy, because he became increasingly consumed by domestic troubles (mostly due to COVID). This gave his aids clearance to pursue tough-on-China policies. It is important to note that Trump alone did not shape the China relationship, but his trade war destroyed global norms and paved the way for the pursuit of policies that were unthinkable beforehand. Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen talking on the phone in 2016 was an early mark in the shift. It was the first direct contact between top US and Taiwanese officials since at least 1979. In 2017, Trump started the trade war by levying tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods. In 2018, Trump started cooperating with agencies and departments. The National Security Strategy’s Indo-Pacific was approved, and a Trump-era China strategy began to emerge. The US Pacific Command changed its name to Indo-Pacific Command in a move seen as countering China’s rise. The Department of Justice launched its China Initiative, an effort to disrupt China’s covert activities in the US. In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became a leading figure in the US push against China, publicly accusing the Chinese Communist Party of seeking “international domination”. In 2020, after years of tariffs and negotiations the Phase One trade deal is signed. With the trade deal signed, Trump allowed staff across agencies to push through long-desired actions on China-related issues. Trump was also bold enough to blame China for the virus, something the WHO tried to get out of.
Trump on Russia
Trump joked with Putin about not colluding, though one of the first things Trump did was to sanction Russian people involved in an election interference attempt. Depending on whether Trump was guilty or not of collusion, it was either to look good or to truly try to stop election interference. Trump took policies against Russian support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the Assad regime in Syria. Trump also took policies to support Ukraine, supply the country with weapons, and sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Sanctions were given for poisonings and the harm of political opponents. What was puzzling was why despite all this, Putin appeared to like Trump. After a lot of research, it looks like Putin liked Trump’s willingness to negotiate and focus on ways the two countries could cooperate. Trump was willing to negotiate with a variety of actors in the international arena that other politicians were unwilling to negotiate with. The US and Russia cooperate on nonproliferation (try to prevent the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction), counterterrorism, scientific research, Arctic management, public health, and the mission to build a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. The US Department of State claims that the “long-term goal of the United States is to see Russia become a constructive stakeholder in the global community”. If Trump could not bring a lot more cooperation, at least he got into less confrontation than Biden did with Putin.
Biden Policies so Far
The Biden administration has gotten into conflict with both China and Russia. The Chinese summit in Alaska was rough, and both sides took jabs at each other to appeal to reporters. China and Russia both appealed to Black Lives Matter, pointing to it as a sign of domestic weakness. Putin himself challenged Biden to a public debate to humiliate him. He added sarcastic remarks about his health to challenge his virility. Both countries see Biden as weak, and an administration they can insult without facing punishment. Biden, it appears, does not have the same future of positive cooperation with either country.
Where Putin praised Trump, he insults Biden. A Chinese official claimed that “the US could not speak from a position of strength”. China must be weakened to be negotiated with, and Trump did that relatively effectively with his trade war to lead up to his Phase One deal. Biden does not exude the same level of intimidation Trump did. Biden will need to change his approach or face problems from both countries. There is some hope with Biden sanctions over Uyghur human rights abuses, though he has yet to take the hard stances Trump did.
Written by: Miranda Smith