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US wants to regain leadership but domestic predicament, doubts from allies remain

Global Times 2021-02-23

US President Joe Biden will attend a virtual G7 leaders' meeting on Friday, his first multilateral meeting since taking office. In the past four years, relations between the US and its allies have been greatly damaged. Biden's participation in this online meeting is a signal to allies that the traditional, alliance-focused US is back, an attempt to reassure these allies, convincing them, to some extent, to restore confidence in the US and to mend relations with the US.

However, it will take more than a meeting or two for the US and its allies to repair their relations and regain its leadership.

The US faces many challenges if it wants to regain its leadership worldwide. For example, some US allies are currently adopting a wait-and-see attitude, rather than simply agreeing with the US' decisions and following its steps blindly and unconditionally.

First, US policymaking is not up to the US president himself. With intensified political infighting in the country, it is uncertain what foreign policies the Biden administration will develop. Second, if the US intends, as some strategists suggested, to gang up with its allies against Russia and China, the Biden administration needs to first face the fact that many of G7 countries have a wide range of different interests from those of the US. How much the US' allies will listen to its proposals depends on whether the US is willing to cooperate and coordinate with its allies by sacrificing some of its interests, and on how much the country is willing to pay the price to compensate its allies for their losses due to conflict with a third party.

The leadership of a state, as history has proved, actually comes from its own strength. If a country develops itself well and with boosting national strength, it does not need to worry about its influence, credibility or losing its global leadership.

For the US, it is no longer the nation it used to be. Today, the US is facing both domestic and international puzzles, including failed COVID-19 epidemic prevention and control, withdrawals from multiple international organizations, contempt for international rules and norms, the sluggish economic recovery, endless political infighting, demonstrations and riots. All of them are exhausting US strength.

The Financial Times published an article headlined "America's best hope of hanging together is China." It claimed that "an unchallenged US is a divided US," and "without an external foe to rail against, the nation turns on itself." Setting up an external enemy is a US strategic tradition, as such approach has been verified successful in the past during the Cold War.

Yet the method is a double-edged sword, because the deterioration of its ties with so-called US "foes" could be unnecessary, misleading and even destructive. Former US president Donald Trump portrayed China as a major threat, but the truth is China has never threatened the US like the Soviet Union. If Washington keeps formulating its policy in accordance with such perceptions, it will eventually completely mess up ties with Beijing, and overthrow the relations between the two biggest economies in the world.

The US is supposed to focus on its own development. When it does so, its leadership and influence will naturally rise. At the same time, the US should keep up with the trend of the multipolar world and stop arbitrarily interfering in other countries' domestic affairs or imposing unilateral sanctions recklessly.

Granted, the G7 is still a group of the most developed countries in the world. Their influence in global governance, strength in advanced science and technology, international public opinion and soft power cannot be underestimated. However, it is also true that the G7 is far from its glorious good old days when it was first established.

Emerging developing countries like BRICS are gradually changing, or even have already changed the distribution of world power. If some countries still holds the outdated confrontational mentality, they are going against the major trend in the globe and that path will hit a dead end.

The author is Deputy Director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University.

Source: Global Times