Answers to Questions from Ming Pao about US Elections, Alliances and Foreign Policy

Questions from Ming Pao, Charlie Chau 18 Sept 2020

  1. Do you agree that the Trump administration is impairing the US alliance system? We may note the Trump administration pushed forward a strengthened relationship with new partners like India (for QUAD). While he kept poor relations with traditional allies in Europe (aka. Germany), he maintained good relations with traditional allies in the Middle East. How should we understand those contrast? 

This Administration, with its trade wars, its demands on allies, its renunciation the agreements on Iran’s nuclear program and the Paris Agreement on global climate, has alienated most of our traditional allies and left them uncertain about US intentions.  “American first” has ended up producing “America Alone”   

There are a few exceptions:  President Trump has continued progress with India, maintained a close relationship with Japan, and tightened the US relationships with Israel.  These are largely based on personal connections between President Trump and the foreign leaders, not a commitment to US diplomatic leadership in the world.  Thus, they leave most of the world wondering about US policy and worried that overall the US will not be a reliable partner in meeting the challenges that face us all.

  1. How do you evaluate on Biden’s policy platform on repairing alliances? How may Biden better manage those alliances with stark divergence on particular topics? (e.g. Germany with military burden sharing and Nord Stream II problems) 

Vice President Joe Biden has long experience in diplomacy and foreign policy, from his many years as Chairman of the Senate Foreigns Relations Committee to his time as Vice President for President Obama.  So, while Biden can be expected to emphasize America’s alliances, he will also push Allies to step up to a common policy on issues like Russia –and Russian political interference– and on the rise of China.  Over the years, he has valued US Alliances and ties with like-minded countries, but has expressed forcefully the view that we must act together as Allies, not just maintain good relationships.

  1. How did the alliance system contribute to the US national interests? As an experienced career diplomat, may you share with examples on why and how allies/partners may help on your diplomatic work? 

Alliances fundamentally reflect US interests and power in the world. The post-War world order has formed around a system of Alliances created by the United States to maintain peace, promote prosperity and deal with global threats of disease, climate, etc.  As we head into a new era, these Alliances can help create a system of global cooperation on global issues, help us benefit from each others’ strengths, help us open our markets to each other on an equal basis, and organize solutions to technological, political, military and diplomatic challenges we all face. Alliances underpin US leadership to make the rules that we all must follow –including emerging powers like China.  Without these Alliances –in a global free-for-all– none of us can prosper or be safe.

  1. May you predict on the difference of US policy to Hong Kong between a second-term Trump administration and a potential Biden administration? Will they use sanctions in different ways? 

Sanctions have always been a frequent tool for US Administrations and the Congress, but the current Trump administration has used them wily-nily whenever they face a problem.  In a second Trump term, we could expect more and more use of sanctions, a constant search for ways to lash out at China, Iran, Venezuela and others they have labelled pariahs and the consequent disruption on the patterns of global business that have brought prosperity to the US and others.  A Biden administration will also use sanctions, but less frequently and less irrationally, and can also be expected to negotiate for their removal.  He is likely to remove tariffs and sanctions on US allies quickly, with a minimum of negotiation.  With Iran, North Korea, China and others, a Biden Administration can be expected to try to manage conflict, reach agreements where possible, and in return, remove sanctions that do not impinge directly on US national security. 

There may be some moderation in the application of sanctions with regard to Hong Kong, for example by making changes to target more directly mainland entities and interests while allowing some exceptions for Hong Kong people and companies.  However, as long as the authorities in Beijing continue to interfere in the politics, the security environment, the education system, the judicial system and the daily life of Hong Kong, the US will maintain sanctions and restrictions –no matter which party controls the White House or the Congress.