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Biden’s Continuing Failures of Policy and Men

President Biden’s presence at the G20 meeting in New Delhi provides a time to reflect on how much the position of the U.S. has weakened under his presidency. As the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) leader Xi Jinping declined to attend, dispatching instead his deputy and head of economic policy Li Qiang to take his place, there was an opportunity to capitalize upon the PRC’s cold shoulder to the Indian hosts and snub to the G20. For instance, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Biden had a positive meeting, and some important events happened at the G20 including efforts by the U.S. to strengthen the World Bank and IMF. Further, the U.S. would like to augment the World Bank’s lending to middle-income and low-income states by $25 billion, which is to be joined by other states, such as Japan, to around $100 billion. Keeping the World Bank well-funded is a good way to offset the PRC’s Belt-and-Road Initiative. Related measures are to be adopted at the IMF. The EU and U.S. also discussed a new ship and rail corridor from Europe, through the Middle East to India. This would also include undersea cables and energy transportation and serve as an offset to the PRC’s growing influence in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are energy powers but also seen as logistics nodes between East and West.

While these measures were being discussed, the PRC was actively waging political warfare at the summit. In diplomatic meetings at the current G20, PRC officials challenged the U.S. G20 presidency scheduled for 2026 in their continuation of all out warfare against the U.S. in every international forum, while simultaneously building new institutions such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that promotes the creation of a new monetary regime not based on the U.S. dollar.

Accordingly, the G20 meeting represents another missed opportunity by the Biden administration to note the contempt the PRC possesses for it and its hosts. Biden should have strongly condemned Xi’s absence and efforts to undermine the G20 itself by interfering with its accepted norms. By not explicitly resisting the PRC, the Biden administration is complicit in supporting the PRC’s grand agenda to transform or destroy existing international institutions to Beijing’s benefit. So obvious was Xi’s absence that even the left-leaning Atlantic magazine remarked that communist “China is done with the established world order.” Biden’s silence on this reality speaks volumes about the true nature of this administration’s damaging agenda of unconstrained and unaccountable engagement with the PRC.

Another sign of weakness is the return of a bad penny. The nomination of Kurt Campbell, the current National Security Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, to be Under Secretary of State conveys appeasement rather than the bold action required of the U.S. at this critical moment.  Kurt Campbell was the principal American State Department official involved with what is arguably the worst U.S. foreign policy disaster in Asia since Americans fled Saigon in 1975, when he failed to support the Republic of the Philippines, our treaty ally, at Scarborough Shoal in 2012. He single-handedly destroyed American credibility in Asia by abandoning the Philippines, green lighting the PRC’s aggression and an accelerated PRC expansion in the South China Sea.  The PRC’s territorial expansion became an accomplished fact under his tenure in the Obama administration, and because of his incompetence the U.S. now faces the more challenging task of rolling back what never should have occurred.

It will be the responsibility of Senate Republicans to question him regarding his actions and accountability for the Scarborough Shoal capitulation 11 years ago. Kurt Campbell has never publicly acknowledged that there was even a problem at the loss our allies incurred at Scarborough Shoal, to say nothing of accepting his responsibility for this outcome. Accountability is necessary for public trust in institutions, for the leadership of his subordinates, and for his obligations to the national security of the United States.

Additionally, since he is now being labeled a “China Hawk,” he needs to be put on the record for whether or not he supports the U.S. 7th Fleet to execute escort operations for the Republic of the Philippines Navy resupply missions at Second Thomas Shoal that are being harassed and disrupted again by China’s maritime forces. No doubt, many allies and partners will be skeptical based upon his actions in the Obama administration and consider that in a country of 330 million people, if there is not a person who might serve who is not so tainted by past betrayal.  He is not the person needed to advance U.S. interests, including the support of key allies like the Philippines, and as the PRC prepares to move against Taiwan. His promotion would only serve to reinforce a perception that there is no accountability in American government as ruling elites continue to “fail upwards.” For allies and partners, his nomination is a poke in the eye.

The failures to seize opportunities when Xi provides them and to reward the pusillanimity of the man who will be the country’s #2 diplomat at a time when the U.S. is being pressed hard are not what the U.S. requires in its fight with the PRC.

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About James E. Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer

James Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bradley A. Thayer is a Founding Member of the Committee on Present Danger China and the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.

Photo: Ships in the South China Sea, Taiwan, February 2nd, 2021. An Rong Xu/Getty Images