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Trump has maintained that he is the person best positioned to ensure that the world “respects” the US. Biden’s campaign says his foreign policy vision is “to restore dignified leadership at home and respected leadership on the world stage."
In April, TMS first compared the broad policy positions of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. In the months since then, Biden secured the delegates to become the Democratic nominee, selected Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate and officially accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention.
With less than a month until the first of three presidential debates (and one vice presidential debate), the candidates are campaigning during an unusual, coronavirus-altered election year. While there has been a smattering of in-person events, for most voters, understanding each candidate’s stances on the various issues will require personal research.
To that end, TMS is spending 2020 scrutinizing the positions of both candidates. We previously examined Trump and Biden’s stances on mental health care and issues that are most relevant to female voters. In this article, we’re taking a deeper look at where Biden and Trump stand on foreign policy issues in relation to China and the United States’ allies.
Trump and Biden on foreign policy
In April, TMS said of Trump, “The backbone of Trump’s foreign policy has been his ‘America First’ ethos.”
Since his first campaign and throughout his first term, Trump has maintained that he is the person best positioned to ensure that the world “respects” the US. Trump has repeatedly claimed that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, tarnished the US’ reputation on the world stage.
Global polling challenges that contention, with the US’ favorability among foreign nations dipping since Trump took office. However, Trump is viewed favorably by people on the ideological right.
Biden’s campaign says his foreign policy vision is “to restore dignified leadership at home and respected leadership on the world stage.” As TMS wrote in April, Biden has claimed that “his administration would seek to work together with other democracies to ‘confront the rise of populists, nationalists and demagogues.’”
Currently, two of the most volatile areas of foreign policy are the US’ trade disputes with China and its strained relationship with countries that have traditionally been its allies.
Donald Trump on China
US-China relations have been contentious since Trump took office and they’ve only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic, for which Trump has blamed China.
Trump came into office promising to stand up to China on trade. He frequently accused China, the US’ main economic competitor, of currency manipulation and other underhanded tactics to take advantage of the US. At a 2016 campaign stop, Trump went so far as to say the US was being “raped” in its trade relationship with China.
A year and a half into his presidency, Trump acted on his campaign rhetoric by placing 25% tariffs on Chinese products worth US$34 billion annually in trade. Beijing retaliated with tariffs of its own, leading to a trade war between the two nations. The countries have made some progress in trade talks since the tariffs began, but the negotiations remain ongoing.
Despite his tough talk and his frequent reference to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” Trump has regularly praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, even claiming they would “always be friends.” Trump reportedly asked Xi for help in winning the 2020 election.
He also used the trade talks as an excuse for delaying sanctions related to the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. The abuse and imprisonment of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group in China, has been labeled a humanitarian crisis by nations around the world.
Joe Biden on China
Biden has sought to set himself apart from Trump on China, most notably with a campaign ad in April that accused Trump of “roll[ing] over for the Chinese” in response to the coronavirus crisis. The tone of the ad revealed Biden’s apparent adversarial stance vis-à-vis China.
This is also reflected on Biden’s campaign website, which states, “To win the competition for the future against China or anyone else, we must sharpen our innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world to counter abusive economic practices.”
This tough-on-China tone reportedly reveals an evolution in Biden’s views in the wake of the nation’s human rights violations. Or it may merely be a political calculation, as American journalist James Traub has argued, “Biden has simply learned that beating up on China has become a cost-free way to prove your toughness.”
Biden has also said that as president he will assert greater pressure on China “to stop subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing their pollution to other countries by financing billions of dollars of dirty fossil-fuel energy projects through their Belt and Road Initiative.”
Donald Trump on America’s allies
Trump’s “America First” philosophy was not just reserved for America’s economic rivals. As president, Trump has taken a hard-line stance against nations that have historically been America’s allies, accusing them of abusing the relationship and not contributing equally to their agreements.
Trump has been critical of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), accusing its member states of not contributing enough financially to the alliance. The New York Times reported on September 3 that former senior national security officials believe Trump may choose to withdraw from NATO if he wins reelection.
Trump recently approved a plan to relocate 12,000 US troops out of Germany, a move criticized by voices across the political spectrum. Pentagon officials are concerned that it will cost billions of dollars to relocate the troops. Other critics, including Republican Senator Mitt Romney, have said it will weaken the European alliance and strengthen Russia’s power in the region.
Some of Trump’s foreign policy decisions have led to accusations that he is “stabbing allies in the back” to placate Russian President Vladimir Putin. These actions include ignoring bounties Putin allegedly placed on the troops of both the US and its allies in Afghanistan.
Trump has also pulled the US out of multiple peace treaties, actions that critics say endanger the world while emboldening nations like Iran and Russia that were constrained by the treaties. Trump claims those nations were not following the treaty rules anyway.
Joe Biden on America’s allies
Biden has stated that America’s alliances will need to be restored in the wake of Trump’s presidency. In an op-ed for Foreign Affairs earlier this year, Biden claimed, “President Donald Trump has belittled, undermined, and in some cases abandoned U.S. allies and partners. He has turned on our own intelligence professionals, diplomats, and troops.”
He continues, “The Biden foreign policy agenda will place the United States back at the head of the table, in a position to work with its allies and partners to mobilize collective action on global threats.”
Biden’s campaign also promises to use the next Summit of the Americas, to be held in 2021, “to rebuild strong hemispheric ties based on respect for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We will also strengthen our alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and other Asian democracies, while sustaining an ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.”
Biden is among the voices who have been critical of Trump’s withdrawal from peace treaties. He says he will seek out new treaties and recommit the US to a policy of arms control.
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