Western leaders met together for the first time since Joe Biden became the US president, with calls to repair the damage done in the turbulent and divisive years of Donald Trump, and take a united stand against pressing international challenges.
Following a virtual summit of G7 states in London, with a focus on the coronavirus pandemic with financial contributions pledged on a global vaccine rollout, they gave virtual addresses to the annual Munich Security Conference on problems lying ahead.
Mr Biden’s direct message was that democratic states must work together against the threat from autocratic China and Russia, with the reassurance that “America is back” after four years of Mr Trump’s “America First” which translated into repeated attacks against Nato and the EU, as well as criticism of allies in east Asia like South Korea and Japan.
“I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship. The United States is determined to re-engage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trust and leadership”, said the president.
“We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future direction of our world, between those who argue that – given all of the challenges we face, from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic – autocracy is the best way forward and those who understand that democracy is essential to meeting those challenges.”
China’s manipulation of the international economic system to gain advantage must be resisted, said Mr Biden. “Everyone must play by the same rules. We must prepare together for long-term strategic competition with China, how the United States, Europe and Asia work together to secure the peace and defend our shared values, advance our prosperity across the Pacific,” he held.
While castigating western allies, Mr Trump had been reluctant to criticise Russia and never, ever Vladimir Putin. Mr Biden accused the Russian president of wanting to “undermine the transatlantic unity and our resolve, because it’s so much easier for the Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states than it is to negotiate with a strong and united transatlantic community”.
“The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponises corruption to try to undermine our system of governance. Russian leaders want people to think that our system is more corrupt, or as corrupt, as theirs.”
There have been claims that the G7 meeting has been prelude to an expansion to a G10 or D10 group of democratic states with Australia, India and South Korea being invited to participate by the British government. All three countries have clashed with Beijing and are seen by Washington as partners against Chinese expansion.
Boris Johnson, who incurred the anger of Democrats in the US with his cultivation of Mr Trump, was keen to praise President Biden, who had once called him a “Trump clone”, and stress that Britain was standing up to China. “We have consistently spoken out on China’s repression of the Uighur people in Xinjiang and we will continue to do so”, he said.
Mr Johnson, the Brexit champion, was also keen to highlight his European credentials. “Our commitment to European security is unconditional and immoveable,” he stated.
Angela Merkel declared that “prospects for multilateralism are a lot better than it used to be in the past and that has a lot to do with Joe Biden being the new president of the United States of America”.
The German chancellor continued: “His administration has taken steps, and we have seen that this is not just empty words, but they’re taking action, they return to the Paris climate agreement, the World Health Organisation the unified councils the extension of the New Start agreement, then the readiness to notice and reinvigorate the Iran nuclear deal, these are important steps towards more multilateral cooperation and I can only support him.”
Emmanuel Macron also praised Mr Biden’s leadership. But he wanted to point out that the immediate priorities of Europe and the US may not coincide at all times.
Pointing to Mr Biden’s speech on challenge from China in the east, the French president said: “The US is to become a Pacific power, meaning it is looking at China and the Pacific Ocean. It means that it will refocus us to other regions, than our neighbourhood. During decades, the US within Nato was totally focused on Europe defence of Europe, and our neighbourhood. And I think it is time for us to take much more of the burden of our own protection.”