With one of his goals being to seek US close allies' support for his anti-China strategy, Joe Biden began his first trip to Europe as US president on Wednesday. But he will likely face a reality check in Europe, as European leaders are still traumatized by the four years of Donald Trump's presidency, both on global issues and transatlantic relations.
Many Europeans now see the return of Trump or "Trumpist presidency" in the US in 2024 as a possibility, including a "Republican coup" in the 2022 midterm elections which could pour cold water on Biden's ambitious plans.
The collapse of the talks between the White House and Republicans on a monstrous infrastructure bill on Tuesday is a reminder of how sharply divided Washington is. It came after the Rasmussen Reports poll in April showed 51 percent of the respondents believe "cheating" had a big impact on the 2020 presidential election, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll in May showed 53 percent of the Republican respondents believe Trump is the "true president".
In his op-ed in The Washington Post on June 6, Biden said his Europe visit's goal is to rally "the world's democracies". Yet he himself has admitted, more than once, the increasingly sorry state of US democracy.
When Biden claims the world's major democracies will be offering a high-standard alternative to China for upgrading physical, digital and health infrastructure, he knows full well that the US is no longer interested in or capable of investing in building roads, bridges and power grids in the developing world.
The strategic autonomy pursued by the new EU leadership reflects the public sentiment that the European Union should not depend on the US as much as it did in the past
Besides, the "vaccine nationalism" practiced by the US over the past few months has drawn criticism from both the World Health Organization and the European Commission.
Biden continues to use the cliché that market economies, not China or anyone else, should write the 21s century rules on trade and technology, but a multilateral world and multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organization do not work according to his whims. They respect the will of the diverse members, not to mention that China represents a fifth of humanity, is the second-largest economy, the largest trading country, and is very close to becoming a tech powerhouse.
While Biden will try hard to court the US' allies, Europeans are wary of his policies, as many of them are, in reality, Trump's destructive "America first" policies.
Many Europeans still remember how the United States led some European countries into the Iraq War in 2003 on a false claim and a seemingly lofty slogan of "spreading freedom and democracy". The regime change in Libya pursued by the US and its NATO allies in 2011, too, has proven disastrous.
The strategic autonomy pursued by the new EU leadership reflects the public sentiment that the European Union should not depend on the US as much as it did in the past. Like leaders elsewhere, European leaders don't want to be forced by the US to choose between Washington and Beijing.
Besides, China has replaced the US as the EU's largest trade partner. And the World Bank's projection on Tuesday that China's economy will grow 8.5 percent this year, higher than its January forecast, means more opportunities for Europeans, which could boost the EU's economic recovery.
Despite some European Parliament members' attempt to torpedo the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, businesses based in EU countries expect the deal to be ratified soon, because it will help them expand their presence in China.
Moreover, according to an annual survey of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, which covered its 585 members and was released on Tuesday, 68 percent of the respondents said they are optimistic about future growth in China, a 20 percentage point increase year-on-year. Only 9 percent said they are considering shifting any current or planned investment out of China, the lowest on record.
Biden will use his anti-China rhetoric to persuade or coerce the EU leaders to side with the US, but Europeans are clear that strategic autonomy, not dependency on the US, is best for the EU's future.
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.
HONG KONG NEWS