There is currently much speculation about whether or not the new Biden administration, confirmed by the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Texas move to challenge the result of the recent presidential election, will result in an improvement in relations with both Russia and China by the United States.
In my view such speculation is misplaced. There are a number of reasons for adopting this view. The first is the contents of the team that the incoming Biden administration is assembling. It is repeat with people who were familiar to Biden, indeed friendly with him, when he was vice president in the Barack Obama administration. There is no evidence that any of them have modified their views in the four years that the Democrats have been out of power. One would search long and hard, and in my view fruitlessly, for a single individual who had any history of sympathy or empathy towards either Russia or China.
The Russians certainly acknowledge the reality. Recent speeches by both President Putin and Foreign Affairs Minister Lavrov both signal that Russian patience with the United States has finally been exhausted. It should not be forgotten that it was the Democratic party that led the anti-Russia campaign through the whole of the Trump presidency.
While Biden himself did not have a huge amount to say in that campaign, neither did he ever speak against it. It needs to be remembered that Biden was at the centre of the Ukrainian coup in 2014 and his ties with that country have remained strong ever since. There has been a lot of publicity recently about the conduct of his son who has enjoyed a substantial income from Ukrainian sources for having to do very little. But that sweetheart arrangement is more properly viewed as a favour to his father, rather than the son.
Ever since Crimea voted overwhelmingly to re-join Russia, the western media has systematically misinterpreted those events. The fact that western nations fought Russia in the Crimean war more than 170 years ago is absent from western reporting on Crimea, as are the circumstances of it being transferred to Ukraine by Soviet leader Khrushchev in the 1950s at a time when national borders were less important in the Soviet era.
There is also a considerable degree of hypocrisy in the western attitude, that tends to completely overlook or alternatively distinguish its conduct and attitude at the engineered removal of Kosovo from being part of Serbia.
A second major factor leading one not to expect any significant change in American attitudes and behaviour toward Russia is the history of the United States and Russia over the entire post World War II period. One has only to look at the steady expansion of NATO, continued relentlessly under both Democrat and Republican administrations. There is absolutely no evidence to support any theory that the expansion into Eastern, Southern and Northern Europe has in any way been abated. Again, this occurred under Biden’s previous role as vice president and he has not offered a single word to suggest that the relentless NATO quest to expand still further Eastward has in any way been abated. That expansion has the clear goal of further encircling Russia, as seen most recently with attempted NATO involvement in the Armenia – Azerbaijan dispute, or NATO support for “regime change” in Belarus.
As Brian Cloughley pointed out in a recent article “NATO is Determined to Find Threats and Challenges to Justify its Existence” in discussing a recent NATO publication (NATO 2030) the organisation’s desire to continue expanding has not abated in the least. Their capacity for continuous expansion is matched only by a delusional belief that they are a force for good, rather than the greatest threat to international peace that the world has ever witnessed.
Cloughley describes NATO as “an incompetent and calamitously destabilising force” constantly seeking with threats and challenges to justify its existence. Again, one could have absolutely no confidence that any of these ambitions for global military dominance will be in anyway fettered or constrained under a Biden administration.
This is not to say that a Biden administration will simply be a repeat of Trump. But it would be naïve to expect any significant policy changes. There is, as I have noted, a 75+ year history of United States behaviour to draw upon. The emphasis may vary from time to time to reflect world changes, but the overall thrust remains the same.
The great challenge for the United States will be its reaction to the continued rise of China. There may well be a moderation of the crude anti-China policies embarked upon by the Trump administration. The petty haraasment of China’s diplomatic staff in different consulates throughout the country may well be eased, as with the harassment of Chinese students in US universities.
But these are relatively minor concerns. There is unlikely to be any easing of United States harassment of China over its alleged treatment of the Uigers, or America’s continuing efforts to undermine the relentless progress of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Although the self-defeating conduct of countries such as Australia is unlikely to change, despite the enormous cost China is now imposing on it, not least for its blind adherence to United States policy wishes, most countries will continue their involvement with the BRI. The recent agreement of China to assist in the development of Papua New Guinea has caused alarm in Canberra, but it is unlikely to change PNG’s moves to enhance its cooperation with the People’s Republic.
Australia recently amended its law to provide for the central government to override the wishes of the State governments to promote economic advance. This was clearly aimed at the State of Victoria’s two-year-old agreement to join the BRI, a policy that Australia has relentlessly refused to contemplate. The fact that fellow Five Eyes nation New Zealand successfully joined the BRI more than a year ago has not modified Australia’s stance. In key respects, and this is one, Australia’s foreign policy is still determined by Washington. This is unlikely to change in a Biden administration.
The United States remains a hugely important market for China, notwithstanding the threats and bullying of the United States under Trump. Biden probably has a more realistic view of trade with China then was apparent in the Trump administration. What will be interesting to watch is a Biden administration view on Taiwan. The signals at this point are unclear. Biden himself has no particular expertise in dealing with China, and the continued rise of the latter’s economic power in the four years since Biden was last in office, have not led to any noticeable improvements in his views.
One would expect a less abrasive approach then was true of Trump, especially in the latter’s behaviour over the past two years. Neither do Bidens picks for the top jobs in his administration indicate any particular expertise with regards to China. Most of the top names are better known for their knowledge and experience with Europe. It is very much a case of wait and see.
Finally, there is the unspoken question of Biden’s health. It is an open question as to whether his mental faculties are up to the gruelling demands of a four-year term. If Biden does not survive a full four years, mentally or physically, then the views and capabilities of vice president Harris becomes of critical importance. That is a question that they will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.