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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Biden should follow Trump’s lead

Biden should follow Trump’s lead

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In his inaugural address, US President Joe Biden declared that Americans “will be judged” for how they “resolve the cascading crises of our era.” He expressed confidence that the country would “rise to the occasion” and pledged that the US would lead “not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

The contrast with former US president Donald Trump’s divisive, isolationist rhetoric could not be sharper.

However, adopting a different tone is easier than reversing the US’ relative decline. To do that, Biden would need to provide wise, forward-looking leadership. And that does not necessarily mean breaking with everything that Trump did.

The US’ debilitating political polarization has undermined its international standing. Biden’s calls for unity reflect his awareness of this.

However, the truth is that healing the deep rupture in US society might be beyond any US president’s ability. So, rather than becoming consumed by domestic political divisions, Biden must rise above them.

There is broad bipartisan consensus in one area: the need to stand up to China.

Trump understood this. His tough China policy is his most consequential — and constructive — foreign-policy legacy. Unless Biden pursues a similar approach, the erosion of US global leadership would become inexorable.

The Indo-Pacific region — a global economic hub and geopolitical hotspot — is central to an effective China strategy. Recognizing the region’s immense importance to world order, China has been steadily reshaping it to serve its own interests.

The only way to preserve a stable regional balance of power is with a rules-based, democracy-led order — or, as the Trump administration put it: a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Over the past year, this vision has spurred the region’s democracies to deepen their strategic bonds, and inspired even the faraway democracies of Europe to implement supportive policies. Under the Biden administration’s leadership, countries must build on this progress, creating a true concert of democracies capable of providing stability and balance in the Indo-Pacific.

Biden seems to understand this. He has made clear his intention to build a united democratic front to counter China.

However, he is also at risk of undermining his own vision.

For starters, Biden did not embrace the term “Indo-Pacific” until after his electoral victory, and when he did, he replaced “free and open” with “secure and prosperous.”

Whereas “free and open” implies a rules-based, democracy-led order, “secure and prosperous” leaves room for the inclusion of — and even leadership by — autocratic regimes.

This ignores the crux of the Indo-Pacific challenge: A revisionist China is seeking to supplant the US as the region’s dominant power.

Making matters worse, Biden has signaled a possible reset of ties with China, which would play right into its hands.

Trump’s China policy was not just about trade or human rights. It sent the right message that China is a predatory communist state without political legitimacy or rule of law.

This helped to tip the scales in the US’ favor. Over the past year, unfavorable perceptions of China reached historic highs in many countries. While this was largely because of the made-in-China COVID-19 pandemic, Trump’s ideological onslaught and China’s own aggression — such as on its Himalayan border with India — also played a role.

If the Biden administration abandons economic decoupling and treats China as a major competitor, rather than an implacable adversary, it would tip the scales in the opposite direction, relieving pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) regime and undermining faith in US leadership. This could embolden China to further destabilize the Indo-Pacific region, with Taiwan possibly its next direct target.

Moreover, US conciliation would give India second thoughts about aligning itself too closely with Washington and would likely lead to Japan’s militarization. It would also facilitate China’s efforts to leverage its vast market to draw in the US’ democratic allies — a risk underscored by its investment deal with the EU signed late last year.

All of this would undermine efforts to forge the united democratic front that Biden envisions, compounding the threat of China’s aggressive authoritarianism.

The worst choice Biden could make would be to seek shared leadership with China in the Indo-Pacific region, as some are advocating.

Worryingly, Biden’s team does not seem clear on this. In a 2019 essay, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and US Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell championed “coexistence with China,” describing the country as “an essential US partner.”

To be sure, Sullivan and Campbell did not call for US-China joint hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region or beyond, but they also did not take the clear and necessary position that the US must forge a concert of democracies to bring sustained multilateral pressure to bear on China.

Biden is right to tout the importance of domestic unity and a tough line on China is one of the few policy areas behind which Americans can unite.

More importantly, it is the only way to ensure a stable Indo-Pacific regional and world order.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2021/01/29

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Grace Liao, right, host of SET-TV’s political talk show New Taiwan Go Go Go, is pictured in a screen grab from the show on Thursday.
Photo: Chen Yi-chuen, Taipei Times

Grace Liao (廖筱君), host of SET-TV’s New Taiwan Go Go Go (新台灣加油), the successor to popular political TV talk show Talking Show (大話新聞), famous for its criticism of the government and China, confirmed her resignation on Friday, allegedly due to increasing pressure by the Chinese government on the show’s editorial autonomy.

“I don’t feel at all sleepy even though I have been awake the entire night. Making this decision was not an easy task, but after doing so, there is a sense of relief … We will meet another day and until then, we will fight for this land called Taiwan,” Liao said in a Facebook post at about 4am on Friday.