Even as the Pentagon focuses on competing with China and Russia, the United States is not seeking another world-dividing Cold War, President Joe Biden said Tuesday in a speech at the United Nations.
Though Biden did not name China in his speech, experts saw the remarks as a rebuttal to Beijing’s allegation that America is perpetuating a “Cold War mentality” by launching a security partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia.
“We are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” Biden said. “The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to share challenges even if we have intense disagreements in other areas, because we’ll all suffer the consequences of our failure.”
This willingness to cooperate with adversaries on areas of mutual interest such as ending the COVID-19 pandemic or halting climate change is likely an olive branch to China, said Jason Li, a research associate with the Stimson Center’s East Asia program.
“The Biden approach seemed to emphasize compartmentalization of U.S.-China cooperation beyond what the Trump administration had done,” Li said. “It shows the willingness of the Biden administration to cooperate on some issues with China.”
But Li also noted subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at China. Biden condemned violence against minorities in Xinjiang, an area of northwest China that’s home to the Uyghurs, an ethnic minority targeted by the Chinese government.
Biden also spoke about managing the shifts in power dynamics over the next decade, condemning authoritarianism and promoting freedom of navigation—all remarks directed at China, Li said.
The Chinese press met Biden’s remarks with immediate criticism on Tuesday. The Global Times, a state-run news site in China, published an editorial saying that America’s words run counter to its actions.
“Biden’s speech was a vivid demonstration of the hypocrisy of American politics. Of late, even its allies have been repeatedly learning from Washington’s selfishness and betrayal,” the opinion piece said.
Even Western experts said the president’s remarks about promoting human rights and helping people whose basic needs are not being met by their government were tough to reconcile with America’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In the speech, Biden said the United States “cannot give up on solving raging civil conflicts,” citing violence in Ethiopia and Yemen. But the president has spent weeks defending his decision to pull American troops out of Afghanistan by asking, “How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not?”
These conflicting statements represent a “complete dichotomy,” said David Sedney, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Biden “had the opportunity to make choices, and he chose not to support democracy in Afghanistan, not to support women’s rights in Afghanistan, not to support freedom of the press,” Sedney said. “This is a huge conflict. He’s saying one thing but doing another.”
During Biden’s remarks about America’s opposition to terrorism, support of democracy, and focus on improving women’s rights, it was “a little awkward” that the camera at the United Nations kept panning to the ambassador from Afghanistan, who no longer has a government to represent after the country fell to the Taliban, said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“We’re getting very good words [from Biden] that feel good and sound good, but we’re often not getting the policy follow-up we’d want to turn those words into reality,” Bowman said.
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