01/21/2021, 00.00
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Beijing anxious over Biden’s ambition to 'repair' alliances damaged by Trump

by Emanuele Scimia

China is nostalgic for Trump, the "gravedigger of US hegemony". Chinese experts: The US containment policy will continue, reinvigorated by the relaunch of relations with allies. The centrality of Taiwan. Seoul could break the anti-China front. The focus on East Asia pushes the new president to "neutralize" the Middle Eastern chessboard.

Rome (AsiaNews) – "We will repair our alliances, and engage with the world once again." It is the only real foreign policy passage contained in Joe Biden’s inauguration speech yesterday. Yet it is enough to set the course of Washington's Asian policy over the next four years. Making peace with allies and continuing the policy of strong confrontation with China inaugurated by Donald Trump is the path the new president will likely follow in Asia.

To the chagrin of America's allies, but with Chinese complacency, Trump questioned the alliance system built by the United States in Asia after WWII. One which, according to most experts, is the greatest asset of US foreign policy.

Publishing a series of comments by Chinese journalists, experts and netizens, the Global Times has harshly attacked Trump's political legacy. The Chinese nationalist tabloid yesterday affirmed that Trump had destroyed the image and soft power of the United States with his unilateralism, populism and protectionism.

Some users on Weibo – a well-known Chinese microblogging site – have described Trump as the gravedigger of US hegemony, "the undercover agent" of the Chinese Communist Party: the one who helped to bury the leadership of the West in favour of the rise of China. All proven by the decisions of the European Union and Japan - two historic Washington's allies – to sign important trade deals with Beijing.

The Chinese accuse Trump of having brought Sino-US relations to the brink of a new cold war. However, Trump’s inability to team up with Asian partners undermined his efforts to contain China.

As several Chinese authors point out, Biden could pose a greater danger to Beijing. He will continue Trump's opposition to China, with the only difference that the renewed cooperation with his allies will lend greater substance to these efforts.

It is no coincidence that in their analysis of the Trump presidency Japanese media focused on his "America First" doctrine. Japanese observers believe that it weakened the anti-China front in Asia. Tokyo has not forgotten that the former president described his Asian allies as "freeloaders" who live off the backs of US taxpayers.

India is not a traditional US ally, but a close, newly acquired partner. Hindu nationalist premier Narendra Modi had a certain empathy with Trump; in congratulating Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris (of Indian origin), however, he stressed a desire to intensify bilateral cooperation, based on common values. These would include a desire to halt Beijing’s geopolitical advance.

Speaking to AsiaNews Swaran Singh, professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, notes that the recent assault on the Congress by a pro-Trump mob dealt a serious blow to the image of US democracy. That said, he is convinced that India's attitude towards Washington will not change because of a single isolated episode: “India has engaged Trump aware of his positive and negative sides. Bilateral relations [between the two countries] are now institutionalized.”

The unlikelihood of Biden abandoning the line drawn by Trump in Asia is also evident from his overtures towards Taiwan, which Beijing considers a "rebel" province to be reunified. Yesterday, for the first time since 1979, when the US recognized China at the expense of Taipei, the Taiwanese charge d'affaires in Washington was invited to an inauguration ceremony.

Beijing is somewhat lucky in that the opposition to it – led by the US – is fractured. On the eve of Biden's oath, Moon Jae-in wanted to clarify that he does not intend to take sides in the dispute between Washington and Beijing. The South Korean president has claimed that relations with the two powers are of "equal" importance. This is the mantra also repeated by the countries of Southeast Asia, which regardless of the change of administration want the US to continue to "balance" the rise of China, even though without openly aligning with US positions.

Observers see the next decade as a crucial one in the competition between the US and China. Beijing may feel strong enough to launch a coup, for example against Taiwan. In order to counter such a threat, Biden will have to invest a lot of resources in East Asia, while attempting to neutralize other important political chessboards such as the Middle East. The executive order signed yesterday cancelling Trump's ban on the entry into the US of citizens from seven Muslim countries seems to point in this direction.

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