October 4, 2022
Biden seeks China’s participation at global summits
EDINBURGH, Scotland — As President Joe Biden attended a pair of global summits in Europe in the last few days, he sought to leverage the absence of one superpower — China — to reassert U.S. leadership on the global stage.At this week's U.N. climate summit in Scotland, as with the G-20 in Italy a few…

EDINBURGH (Scotland) — President Joe Biden visited two global summits in Europe over the past few days to leverage the absence of one superpower China – to reaffirm U.S. leadership in the global arena.

This week’s U .N. climate summit in Scotland, as with the G-20 in Italy a few days before, Biden made a point of demonstrating he was filling a diplomatic void left by President Xi Jinping. Both meetings were skipped by the Chinese leader because the Biden administration is working to counter Beijing’s growing economic, diplomatic and political influence throughout the globe

” Why is China trying to claim a new position in the world, as a leader and not showing up? Biden, who was speaking in Glasgow on Tuesday after blaming China for not showing up in Rome, said “Come on!” While calling Xi’s non-show a “big error,” Biden said that China’s absence was not unnoticed. He said world leaders had taken note and argued the country had “lost the ability to influence people around the world.”

“We showed up,” Biden said, drawing a contrast with the country he has said is locked in a “strategic competition” with the U.S. “And by showing up, we’ve had a profound impact on the way I think the rest of the world is looking at the United States and its leadership role.”

Biden said the same was true of Russia, another U.S. adversary whose leader, Vladimir Putin, also skipped both summits.

Xi, China’s president since 2013, has not left the country in nearly two years, since before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. China-watchers are speculating about the reasons he is staying home, whether it’s to manage the virus response or other domestic political purposes. It’s not about climate change.

Biden has tried to pressure China to increase its global warming goals. China intends to allow greenhouse gas emission to continue rising until 2030. However, the larger goal of the Biden administration is to offer less-power nations an alternative to Beijing.

As G-20 leaders huddled in Rome, Biden announced the U.S. was rolling back tariffs on steel and aluminum from the European Union put in place under the Trump administration. While some U.S. businesses and labor unions have argued for keeping some of these measures in place to protect U.S. production; Biden’s administration said it was better to import steel and aluminum from Europe than China.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo explained that China’s metal was simply dirtier than Europe’s, in terms of the carbon dioxide emissions involved in producing it, and that the “lack of environmental standards is part of what drives down their costs.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, one of Biden’s close allies in Congress, where action aimed at China may be one of few issues where the political parties can agree, praised the president’s effort at the summits. The Biden administration understands that it is important to cooperate with allies and friends if you are going to stand up for American workers in the face China’s anticompetitive practices.

And before Biden flew home late Tuesday from Scotland, he took time away from the climate agenda to meet on the summit’s sidelines with G-7 nations and EU leaders about how wealthy democracies can “meet the enormous infrastructure need in the developing world.”

Dubbed “Build Back Better World,” an extension of Biden’s domestic economic and infrastructure program of a similar name, the initiative is a clear effort by Western nations to counter China’s own program to bankroll infrastructure in developing nations.

China has a version called “One Belt, One Road” and it is estimated that Beijing spent more than a trillion dollars in building infrastructure across Africa, Latin America, and Asia over the past decade. China denies that the U.S. insists on China’s assistance with strings attached.

“This session is also a stark contrast with other global players like China, who are building infrastructure to lock developing countries into unsustainable debt traps.

Although Xi was absent in Rome and Glasgow it was not acknowledged publicly by China’s government.

“It gives me great pleasure to attend the World Leaders Summit and discuss ways to address the climate challenge,” Xi said of the 26th Conference of the Parties, which he did not, in fact, attend. These comments were made in a written statement that was submitted to the conference’s website in place of a speech. In that message, Xi emphasized the need for nations to “build on existing consensus, increase mutual trust, step up cooperation and work together to deliver a successful COP26 in Glasgow.”

After world leaders flew from Rome to Glasgow on Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, praised the remarks that Xi had delivered to the G-20 summit.

“President Xi Jinping’s written statement to COP-26 demonstrates China’s firm position to actively promote international cooperation on climate change and protect the planet we all call home and its sense of responsibility as a major country,” he said, adding that a video conference option was not offered to them by organizers.

Earlier, Wang said Xi’s virtual participation in G-20 was his “latest attendance at major multilateral events after the recent general debate of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.” That one, too, Xi attended virtually, without ever leaving Beijing.

In September, officials from the Biden administration traveled to Latin America to find potential infrastructure projects that could be funded as part of Build Back Better World. On Tuesday, the White House announced the Biden’s deputy national safety adviser would travel to West Africa to follow suit.

Recently, China has appeared to reorient its One Belt, One Road initiative around cleaner projects like renewable energy rather than the coal plants that made up a large part of its early investments.

Derek Scissors is a China expert who is also a senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute. This conservative-leaning thinktank in Washington asks how effective an alternative program from the U.S. could be. He noted that China is showing signs of less commitment to the costly endeavor than four years ago.

“It’s not as if President Biden’s going to say, ‘Oh well, Xi Jinping’s not leaving China, I’m going to go visit 100 countries and make promises to all of them that we can fulfill,'” Scissors said. How much goodwill can that build up if the president speaks to you on the sidelines of a conference? You have to follow it up.”

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