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Biden vs. Xi on the world stage

The administration’s lack of strategic focus is a big problem


President Joe Biden arrives with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting at the G20 summit meeting on Nov. 14 in Bali, Indonesia. Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon

Biden vs. Xi on the world stage
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Earlier this month, President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Indonesia. These summits typically include a bit of political theater and lots of back-slapping among the leaders of the world’s 20 most influential countries. However, in many ways, the priorities and statements of the Biden and Xi administrations demonstrated two very different approaches to international security. President Biden’s incomprehension of China’s global power play at the Summit and at parallel meetings, as well as Biden’s obsession with climate change politics, left the United States in a weaker position than China. A look at Biden’s approach to security and his pledges in Indonesia highlights the difference.

Few Americans realize that the Biden Administration finally published its congressionally mandated National Security Strategy (NSS) last month. The strategy was a long time in coming. By law, a new U.S. administration is supposed to deliver a National Security Strategy to Congress and the American people within six months of taking office. Administrations often take a bit longer, but the lack of a NSS far beyond the six-month point shows the Biden Administration’s lack of focus on international strategy.

Indeed, it is instructive to note that within just a few weeks of taking office in 2021, Biden signed National Security Memorandum #4, which directed agency heads, such as the secretaries of State and Defense, to advance “the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons around the world” as a national security emphasis of the United States. The Biden team was eager to deal with sexuality and gender, but not with international strategy.

With the Biden Administration attempting to promote a social agenda under the guise of U.S. national security, we should not be surprised that it took 18 months to publish a more sophisticated NSS document. This is particularly problematic because the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, and State Department all take their cues from the NSS.

With no strategy, but ready with a radical social and climate agenda, the Biden Administration’s approach to international security looked particularly undisciplined, from Ukraine to Afghanistan to China.

The Biden Administration’s NSS emphasizes climate change politics as central to its approach, referencing such issues more than 70 times in the document, as compared to only two references to weapons of mass destruction. Thus, when Biden sat down with President Xi last week, he wanted to talk climate politics as an area of shared interest. China, however, is (at best) going to give lip service to these Western ecological ideologies while continuing a policy of energy independence based on fossil fuels. Indeed, China, like much of the world, is watching a real-time lesson from Russia’s energy blackmail of Europe.

With no strategy, but ready with a radical social and climate agenda, the Biden Administration’s approach to international security looked particularly undisciplined.

Biden went from the G20 in Indonesia to a global environmental summit in Egypt (COP27). In his remarks, Biden asserted that he and his administration “are racing to do our part” to avoid what he called “climate hell.” He claimed that his administration is leading a “paradigm shift” that will result in “lower cost for clean energy, spurring good-paying union jobs for American workers, and advancing environmental justice in our communities.” Biden then pledged at least $200 million for new initiatives. This sounds more like a reelection speech than one focused on U.S. national security interests.

Where was President Xi? China’s official state news agencies trumpeted articles of Xi meeting with foreign leaders to discuss China’s investment in critical infrastructure across the region. One such meeting that made the front page of government-sponsored China Daily and other regime mouthpieces showed the president of the largest population on earth (China) with the president of the largest Muslim-majority country (Indonesia). Together they watched the trial run of the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Railway, designed to link Indonesia with China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.

Perhaps China’s strategic investments in ports, roads, rail, and other critical infrastructure in Indonesia and elsewhere helps explain why no Muslim-majority country consistently challenges China’s ethnic cleansing of its Muslim Uighur population.

At the end of the day, in order for the United States to lead a rules-based international order that respects law, human rights, and the security of our friends and allies, we need presidential leadership that is tough with our competitors and our enemies. We need sustained and focused attention on potential global hot spots and weapons of mass destruction (such as North Korea, India-Pakistan), deeper attention to countries that seem to be in a downward spiral of destabilization that will wreak regional havoc (Nigeria), increased support to mass movements favoring human rights and religious freedom (China and Iran), policies to counter the radical socialism that has taken over a dozen Latin American governments, and keen attention to the power politics of threats such as China and Russia.

Biden’s forays in Indonesia and Egypt demonstrate a lack of attention to the fundamentals of how strategic global conflict actually works. That, in itself, makes the entire world more vulnerable.


Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is president of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.


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