Biden works to convince the world U.S. is back as Asia swing starts

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — President Biden arrived here on Saturday, the second leg of a week-long overseas trip aimed at reassuring the global community that regardless of political unrest in the country, the United States can still be a reliable world leader.

On the heels of a midterm election that gave him better-than-expected results — but could still cost his party full control of Congress when the final results come in, complicating his goals — he used the two appearances so far to press this theme and rally other nations.

During a speech in Egypt at the COP27 climate conference, Biden touted the United States as the world leader in the fight against climate change. And in Phnom Penh for a summit of Southeast Asian nations, he immediately began trying to unite other nations to provide a counterbalance to the growing economic and military threat posed by China.

However, one of the president’s persistent challenges has been persuading fellow leaders that former President Donald Trump’s disruption of US foreign policy was an aberration, not a long-lasting change. Hours into his presidency, Biden decided to rejoin the Paris climate accords that Trump left, and after voters delivered a verdict last week on his first two years in office, he tried to signal that his declaration of renewed American leadership was not in jeopardy.

Biden hopes to quell any notion that hardliners in the GOP led by Trump, who could announce another presidential campaign in days, could take power and torpedo any promises his administration has made on climate change. Moreover, it works to unite the world against Russian aggression and to show that American commitment to the cause of Ukraine is not in jeopardy despite possible Republican scrutiny of Congress.

As he began meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he said he would address “the biggest issues of our time”, including energy, climate, health and national security, as well as the impacts nations here are feeling from Russia’s war in Ukraine. He called ASEAN “the heart of my administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy”.

The president also said he hoped “to defend against significant threats to the rules-based order and threats to the rule of law,” an apparent reference to China.

Before a meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Biden thanked Sen for his “clear condemnation” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet even Biden wouldn’t have had to look far for a reminder of the uncertainty presented by domestic politics: In the roughly 20-hour journey on Air Force One over the past few days, television screens have been settled on CNN’s total election coverage. results.

One of the big tests will come during the president’s third and final stop on Monday in Bali, when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit. White House officials said they did not expect significant progress on major issues and called the meeting an effort to keep an open line of communication between the two countries. It will be the two leaders’ first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office.

While some Democrats feared a midterm annihilation would weaken him on the world stage, top White House aides say the relatively successful outcome should be a boost. “Tuesday’s results show that the American people are sending him onto the world stage in a very strong position,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told reporters ahead of the trip.

Biden has often noted that he faced skepticism abroad after Trump’s stormy tenure, citing a meeting of leaders from the world’s seven major economies early in his presidency. “I said, ‘America is back,'” Biden recounted. “And one of the leaders looked at me and said, ‘For how long?’ ”

“He wants to reassure people, but those assurances are very difficult given the political situation we find ourselves in. And I think Europeans are right to wonder how long we’re back,” said Samantha Gross, Fellow of the Brookings Institution. specialized in climate and energy.

Rosa Balfour, director of the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels, said on Wednesday that if the subject of American reliability with European partners “remains a relevant question”, calmed down a bit after the results of the midterm elections.

“Everyone was very, very, very worried in European capitals,” Balfour said. “The fact that it seems there was no [Republican] wave… is actually very promising.

However, some concern remains. And although the temperature has been lowered, she said, it’s clear to those watching from afar that the fever has not come down. “Perhaps there has not been a sufficient sense of urgency for Europe to prepare for a hostile president, perhaps even more hostile than Trump, in 2024,” she said. .

Biden’s stop in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula was meant to be a visible reminder of the importance his administration places on climate change. He had originally not planned to attend, but after a long debate with advisers, he rearranged his schedule.

Ahead of his speech there, Biden met with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, who is hosting the conference and has been criticized for his dismal human rights record.

The Biden administration decided in September to withhold $130 million in security assistance for Egypt for the second year due to a range of security concerns, including arbitrary arrests, excessive pretrial detentions and torture by government jailers. Political and media freedoms were also curtailed under Sisi.

Biden and Sisi had an in-depth human rights discussion, according to White House advisers, and Biden raised specific cases and pushed for the release of pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.

“I can say emphatically that we believe Alaa Abdel Fattah should be released,” Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One after the stopover in Egypt. He noted the “constant debate” over whether a diplomatic resolution is best pursued by “public pressure or private engagement”, then opted for the latter.

“As for the details of our discussions with the Egyptians, I would like to leave them behind closed doors for the time being,” Sullivan said.

One of Biden’s goals during his visit to ASEAN is to signal to key allies like Japan and South Korea that the United States is backing them as China gains economic power.

“Certainly the countries of the region don’t want a big power conflict or confrontation,” Sullivan said. “But they also very much want the American presence – a forward deployed presence in the region. And the reason they want this is because they see the United States as an important anchor of peace and stability.

“There is no doubt that the president is coming with a significant value proposition for the rest of the region that says, ‘The United States is a resident power of the Pacific. We have played a crucial role in the past. Today we play an essential role. And we intend to do so in the future,” Sullivan said.

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