President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, as they depart for Europe where President Biden is scheduled for a series of meetings with leaders from NATO, the European Union, and the Group of 7. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)When Biden defines the current struggle as “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies,” though, he appears to be worrying more about China’s appeal as a trading partner and source of technology than Russia’s disruptions. And while Europeans largely do not see China as the kind of rising technological, ideological and military threat that Washington does, it is an argument Biden is beginning to win.
The British are deploying the largest fleet of its Navy warships to the Pacific since the Falklands War, nearly 40 years ago. The idea is to reestablish at least a visiting presence in a region that once was part of its empire, with stops in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. But at the same time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signed on to the effort by Washington — begun by Trump and accelerated by Biden — to assure that Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, does not win new contracts to install 5G cellular networks in Britain.
Some in Europe are following suit, but Biden’s aides said they felt blindsided last year when the European Union announced an investment agreement with China days before Biden’s inauguration. It was a reflection of fears that if the continent got sucked into the US-China rivalry, European companies would bear the brunt, starting with the luxury auto industry in Germany.
The future of the agreement is unclear, but Biden is going the other way: Last week he signed an executive order banning Americans from investing in Chinese companies that are linked to the country’s military or that sell surveillance technology used to repress dissent or religious minorities, both inside and outside China. But to be effective, the allies would have to join; so far, few have expressed enthusiasm to join the effort.
Biden may be able to win over skeptics with his embrace of the goal of combating climate change, even though he will run into questions about whether he is doing enough.
Four years ago, at Trump’s first G7 meeting, six world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate accord while the United States declared it was “not in a position to join the consensus.”
Biden is reversing that stance, pledging to cut US emissions 50 percent to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade and writing in an op-ed in The Washington Post before the summit that with the United States back at the table, countries “have an opportunity to deliver ambitious progress.”
But world leaders said they remained wary of the United States’ willingness to enact serious legislation to tackle its emissions and deliver on financial promises to poorer countries.
“They have shown the right approach, not necessarily to the level of magnitude that they could,” said Graça Machel, the former education and culture minister of Mozambique.
Key to reaching ambitious climate goals is China, which emits more than the United States, Europe and Japan combined. Peter Betts, the former lead climate negotiator for Britain and the European Union, said the test for Biden was whether he could lead the G-7 countries in a successful pressure campaign.
China, he said, “does care what the developing world thinks.”