Biden in Europe: G-7, NATO, and China

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Biden in Europe: G-7, NATO, and China

Insights from Giuseppe Gabusi.

Biden in Europe: G-7, NATO, and China
Credit: Official White House photo

The Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Dr. Giuseppe Gabusi, assistant professor at the Department of Cultures, Politics and Society at University of Turin and head of Asia Prospects Program at T.wai, the Torino World Affairs Institute, is the 278th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

Identify the top three outcomes of President Joe Biden’s Europe trip for transatlantic relations.

The most important and overarching result has been “building back better” the transatlantic community, after the neglect – and, to a certain extent, contempt – of the European allies that characterized the Trump administration. More specifically, first at the G-7 in Cornwall, President Biden stressed that democracies can also deliver to counter the current narrative coming from authoritarian states portraying their model as more effective (being based on output legitimacy) than Western liberal institutions (founded on input legitimacy). President Biden also launched an alternative infrastructure plan to the Belt and Road Initiative, the details of which are still in-the-making.

Second, he managed to re-launch NATO – an alliance which President Macron of France in 2019 declared to be in a state of “brain death” – and expand its scope to systemic challenges coming from China and to non-traditional security issues like climate change. That for the first time a NATO document has included China in the list of security threats for the alliance has not passed unnoticed in Beijing.

Finally, the EU-U.S. summit – the first at this level in seven years – has at least agreed on a truce in the long-term dispute between Boeing and Airbus on state subsidies, with a view of uniting the Western aviation industry in front of COMAC, the rising Chinese competitor. Even though the summit has been hailed as “a new chapter” in EU-U.S. relations, I suspect that the disagreement on standards that had stalled the negotiations of the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) before President Trump put them in the freezer is not fading away soon.

How credible was the G-7’s position on China?

Beyond the rhetoric – every G-7 country would agree on values like respect for minorities and freedom of expression – it seems that the language of the final communique was toned down, because there are different sensibilities on this between the U.S. and its European partners. Mainstream media have reported a comment from a European diplomat, who pointed out that Europe does not like China for what it does, but the U.S. does not like China for what it is. I think it perfectly catches the point. The American public opinion and elite cannot even conceive of the idea that a communist regime can ensure economic growth and be considered a source of inspiration in many developing countries. For them, China’s success is a threat to the universality of the Anglo-Saxon (more than Western) liberal economic model. Europeans are concerned as well about Beijing’s neoauthoritarian turn, but they know that on several issues they have to find a way to cooperate, not least in trade and climate change. You might call them more pragmatic, or more cynical, but on the other side of the ocean corporate America is actually on the same line.

Explain the symbolic relevance of the guest nations in attendance: Australia, India, South Africa, and South Korea.

As for other democratic partners being invited to the meeting, the whole point is: Can a group of industrialized countries originally designed to coordinate the global economy be successfully transformed in a politically-oriented “league of democracies”? To do what? We might even argue that maybe G-7 countries want to become the “avant-garde” of the G-20, where notable autocracies like Saudi Arabia (an American ally) sit. It is a delicate exercise, because you risk antagonizing non-democracies – which in turn could build a coalition – and at the same time losing your capacity to manage global economic policies, the original function of the group.

What key signals did the NATO Summit send to China and Asia?

The key signal is that security issues in East Asia – the South China Sea, Taiwan, and North Korea – are now under NATO’s radar, and NATO actions/reactions in the region cannot be excluded in the future. In a sense, this is the logical development of a strategy which started with out-of-theater operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but this time the signal is directly sent to Beijing, which has in fact reacted furiously. It is also interesting to notice the relatively cordial atmosphere between Putin and Biden in Geneva: for the U.S., Russia is a serious nuisance that Washington and NATO can easily deal with, even tolerating Germany’s Nord Stream flirt, but China is an existential threat that needs now a firm NATO stance.

Assess how the shift in Italy’s China policy under Prime Minister Mario Draghi might impact the EU’s approach to China.

After Italy’s choice to sign the Memorandum of Understanding on the Silk Road in 2019 – which euphemistically created a terrible headache in Washington – Mario Draghi has re-affirmed the country’s traditional European and transatlantic main foreign policy line. The current Italian government has also activated its “golden share” power to block Chinese investments in strategic sectors. However, the prime minister has also clearly stated that – without giving up on values, which are different – the EU has to keep engaging China on many fronts. In fact, Italy’s attitude is not so different from France’s or Germany’s (someone has even labelled Prime Minister Draghi as Merkel’s successor, in political leadership terms), whose attitude had already changed following the Chinese sanctions on EU institutional figures and European scholars. In a forthcoming book chapter I co-authored with Anna Caffarena, we actually talk about Europe’s “Third Way” between extreme confrontation and complete appeasement.  

Evaluate how renewed transatlantic relations would effectively manage China’s aggressive global influence.

In the same chapter I was just quoting, we observe Sino-European relations in multilateral contexts like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the World Trade Organization and we argue that both parties are steering the order – which is in flux – in a direction more conforming to their respective interests and preferences. Is a renewed transatlantic partnership helping Europe’s attempt to steer the order toward rules and standards preferred by the West? It all depends on how successfully the (re)united West addresses long neglected global challenges in the South, where China has continuously increased its presence. For instance, can the West support a more sustainable development in developing countries, offering an alternative to the intensive industrialization “model” that China is de facto exporting? President Biden has made it clear that Africa is not a priority at the moment, but it’s there where the West is mostly failing to conquer people’s hearts and minds.