Biden's reentry on the foreign policy stage

Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 5:11pm

https://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/dovetail.prxu.org/300/6ccf6c47-5df2-48ee-8da2-5cd60f2fd631/2021_0225_06.mp3

The first 100 days are key to understanding where any presidency is going. Now more than a third of the way into that timeframe, how is President Joe Biden doing in the international policy arena? The World’s host Marco Werman speaks with Nicholas Burns, a former US under secretary of state for political affairs and a former ambassador to NATO.

TRANSCRIPT:
Marco Werman:
I'm Marco Werman, you're with The World, we're a co-production of GBH Boston and PRX. The first 100 days are key to understanding where any presidency is going. Joe Biden is more than a third of the way there — 36 days in — to be precise. We wanted to check in to see how Biden is doing so far in the international policy arena. For that, we turn to someone we've had regularly on the show, Nicholas Burns, a former US undersecretary of state for political affairs and a former ambassador to NATO. Burns says President Biden has had a relatively smooth reentry onto the global stage.

Nicholas Burns:
He's made a point of emphasizing the importance of our alliances, of NATO and the trans-Atlantic region of our East Asian alliances. He's taken the United States back into the World Health Organization and we've joined COVAX. And so the US will be part of the effort to help vaccinate the rest of the world, which, of course, is in our interest. We're only going to be really safe from the coronavirus when the entire world has been able to deal with it. We're back at the leadership table, and I think that's made us stronger and more effective. And I think has been a very fast start.

Marco Werman:
Clearly, there have been some big changes under Biden and we are expecting more. But do you think the US is viewed in a radically different way, 37 days into the Biden presidency on the world stage than just a few weeks ago?

Nicholas Burns:
Well, I think in the public opinion polls, President Trump did a lot of damage to America's reputation. That has not recovered yet. It'll be interesting to see over the next four to six months. I would hope that we would see a rebound in the faith that people have around the world of the United States.

Marco Werman:
How concerned are you about the clock that is ticking on reentering the Iran nuclear deal?

Nicholas Burns:
It's difficult because the Iranians have an election coming this spring. And the speculation is that hardliners might emerge victorious in those elections, which would make it more difficult for the Iranians to even want to have an agreement with the United States and the other countries. But, you know, I think that President Biden has taken the right step here. He said we're open to a meeting that the European Union would host, along with the Iranians of the United States. I think it's clearly in our interest to go back to these talks. One of the difficulties will be, will the Iranians be willing to accept limits on their ballistic missiles capacity, which is a real problem in the Middle East, a destabilizing problem? And will they be willing to pull back from their support for terrorist activities in countries like Yemen and Syria and Iraq and Lebanon? And so a hard bargain needs to be made here.

Marco Werman:
So I'd like to ask you a few things, Nick Burns, about China, since you've had a relationship with a country for nearly 30 years. Today, China's President Xi Jinping made an interesting announcement. He says China's lifted the income of nearly 100 million people over the past eight years and has eradicated poverty. I don't know how much you'd accept that assessment, but it is more proof that China's economy may be slowing down, but it's still really muscular. Do you think China needs to remain an economic adversary for the US or can the US find a way to create a mutually beneficial trade relationship?

Nicholas Burns:
Well, first of all, over the last 40 years, China has lifted an extraordinary number of people out of poverty, going all the way back to Deng Xiaoping's reforms in the late 70s, early 80s. And it's an accomplishment. We've seen that accomplishment mirrored in India, in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Brazil, we've seen, well more than a billion people globally lifted out of poverty. And it's a great human accomplishment. So, yes, the Chinese have done that, but other countries have done it as well. I think that China is going to remain an economic competitor of the United States and of Japan and of the European Union. China is not playing by the rules of the World Trade Organization. We see that in their infringement on patent rights of American companies. We see that in their inability — and refusal — to honor intellectual property rights. And the good thing is on our side of the ledger, the Japanese and the Europeans have the same problem with China that we do. And if you combine the economies of the United States, the EU and Japan is more than 60 percent of global GDP. So that's real weight. And if we could work with those allies to send the same message to China, 'We want to trade with you, but not if you're going to rip off the intellectual property of American, Japanese and European firms. You have to play by the rules.'

Marco Werman:
What do you think US priorities should be with China going forward?

Nicholas Burns:
I think it has to start with trade. We have to hold the Chinese to account and we have to compete with China and pressure them to observe all the trade rules that would allow our companies and our workers to be able to compete on a level playing field, number one. Number two; Xi Jinping is asserting that authoritarianism is the way forward. We Americans do not believe that. There's a battle of ideas underway. And third; obviously, the United States also wants to compete and hold our ground to protect our democratic allies in the Indo-Pacific. We have military alliances with Japan, with South Korea, with Australia. We have a very important military partnership with India. And we want those democratic countries to enjoy a free and open Indo-Pacific. There's so much at stake here in this relationship. I do think there are issues where we can cooperate with China. Certainly we ought to be working together with China and they with us on climate change. I would hope the Chinese would do much better to cooperate with the rest of the world on the coronavirus. So, it's going to be a very competitive relationship. But we should also look for those opportunities to work with the Chinese when we are so inclined, when it's in our interest and we should push them to do that.

Marco Werman:
Nicholas Burns is a former US undersecretary of state for political affairs and former ambassador to NATO. Thank you very much for being with us again, Ambassador.

Nicholas Burns:
Marco, it's a great pleasure. Thank you.