EDINBURGH, Scotland – As President Joe Biden has attended two world summits in Europe in recent days, he has sought to take advantage of the absence of a superpower – China – to reaffirm U.S. leadership on the world stage.

At this week’s United Nations climate summit in Scotland, as at the G-20 in Italy a few days earlier, Biden was keen to demonstrate that he was filling a diplomatic void left by President Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader skipped both meetings as the Biden administration struggles to counter Beijing’s growing economic, political and diplomatic influence around the world.

“Doesn’t the fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader?” Come on, ”Biden said at his closing press conference in Glasgow on Tuesday, just days after also blaming China for his absence in Rome.

Calling Xi’s no-show a “big mistake,” Biden maintained that China’s absence had not gone unnoticed. He said world leaders took note and argued that the country had “lost the ability to influence people around the world.”

“We introduced ourselves,” Biden said, contrasting with the country he said was locked into “strategic competition” with the United States. “And by introducing ourselves, we had a profound impact on how I thinks the rest of the world is watching the United States and its leadership role.

Biden said the same was true of Russia, another American opponent whose leader Vladimir Putin also skipped both peaks.

Xi, president of China since 2013, has not left the country for nearly two years, before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. The reason – for him to stay close to home to manage the response to the virus or for other domestic political purposes – is hotly debated among Chinese observers.

It’s not just about climate change.

Although Biden has sought to pressure China to speed up its global warming targets – China plans to allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue to rise until 2030 – the broader goal of the Biden administration is to offer less powerful countries an alternative to Beijing’s outstretched hand.

As G-20 leaders gathered in Rome, Biden announced that the United States was canceling European Union steel and aluminum tariffs put in place under the Trump administration. Although unions and some American companies wished to retain some of these measures to protect American production, the Biden administration argued that it was better for the United States to import from Europe than from China.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo explained that the Chinese metal is simply dirtier than that of Europe, in terms of the carbon dioxide emissions involved in its production, and that “the lack of environmental standards is part of the which lowers their costs “.

Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, one of Biden’s close allies in Congress, where action against China may be one of the few issues on which political parties can agree, praised the efforts of the president at summits.

“The Biden administration knows that if you want to stand up for American workers and businesses in the face of anti-competitive practices from China, it helps to work with friends and allies,” Brown said.

And before Biden returned home from Scotland on Tuesday night, he took the time to step away from the climate agenda to meet on the sidelines of the summit with G-7 countries and EU leaders on how whose wealthy democracies can “meet the enormous infrastructure needs in the developing world”.

Dubbed “Build Back Better World,” an extension of Biden’s home economy and infrastructure program of the same name, the initiative is a clear effort by Western countries to counter China’s own agenda to finance infrastructure in the countries. in development.

The Chinese version is called “One Belt, One Road”, and to implement it over the past decade, Beijing has reportedly spent over a trillion dollars to build ports, roads, airports and power plants. in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The United States has long maintained that China’s aid comes with serious conditions, a charge Beijing denied.

“This meeting also stands in clear contrast to other global players like China who are building infrastructure that locks developing countries into unsustainable debt traps and fossil-dependent infrastructure for decades to come,” the White House said. in describing the session Tuesday.

While Xi’s absence was felt in Rome and Glasgow, it was barely recognized by the Chinese government, at least publicly.

“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 actually attend.

Rather, those comments came in a written statement submitted instead of an in-person speech in Glasgow and posted on the conference website. In the message, Xi stressed the need for nations to “build on the existing consensus, increase mutual trust, intensify cooperation and work together to carry out COP26 in Glasgow.”

After world leaders traveled from Rome to Glasgow on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin praised Xi’s remarks at the G-20 summit.

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

Earlier, Wang said it was Xi’s “last participation in major multilateral events after the recent general debate at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.” This one too, Xi attended virtually, without ever leaving Beijing.

In September, the Biden administration deployed officials to Latin America to identify potential infrastructure projects for funding as part of Build Back Better World. And on Tuesday, the White House announced that Biden’s deputy national security adviser will immediately travel to Ghana and Senegal to do the same in West Africa.

Recently, China appeared to be reorienting its One Belt, One Road initiative towards cleaner projects like renewables rather than the coal-fired power plants which were a large part of its early investments.

Derek Scissors, Chinese expert and senior researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, questioned the real effectiveness of an American alternative to the program. He pointed out that China has shown signs that it is less engaged in the exorbitant effort nowadays than it was just four years ago.

“It’s not like President Biden is going to say, ‘Well, Xi Jinping isn’t leaving China, I’m going to visit 100 countries and make promises to them that we can keep,’” Scissors said. “If the president speaks to you for a few minutes on the sidelines of a conference, what goodwill is building up? We must follow him. “


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