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Biden's Asia policy

Biden vows to rebuild 'muscle' of democratic alliances

President maintains Trump's tough stance on China in first big foreign policy speech

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on a foreign policy at the State Department on Feb. 4.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- In his first major foreign policy speech, U.S. President Joe Biden called the country's alliances around the world its "greatest asset" and promised to stand shoulder to shoulder with key partners, in a departure from the "America first" approach of his predecessor. (Read the full transcript of the speech here)

"Over the past two weeks, I've spoken with the leaders of many of our closest friends -- Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, France, NATO, Japan, South Korea, Australia -- to be re-forming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the past few years of neglect, and, I would argue, abuse," he said.

One major announcement he made was to conduct a global posture review of American forces around the world to ensure that "our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities."

While the review is underway, the troop withdrawals from Germany planned by the Trump administration will be put on hold, he said. Under the previous administration, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper had announced that approximately 11,900 military personnel would be repositioned from Germany, bringing the number there down to 24,000.

The reduction was widely seen as reflecting then-President Donald Trump's rocky relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, meanwhile, has called the trans-Atlantic alliance the most critical of America's partnerships, and the large-scale pullout of troops from Europe may be reversed.

The posture review will also likely lead to an increased presence in the Indo-Pacific. Sullivan told reporters earlier in the day that the creation of an Indo-Pacific coordinator was one of the reforms at the National Security Council, along with a deputy to oversee cyber and emerging technology. The NSC has elevated "democracy" as a key part of its work, he said.

Calling China "our most serious competitor," Biden said at the State Department that the administration is nevertheless ready to work with Beijing when it is in America's interest.

Biden identified "advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy," as among the challenges to meet, along with the pandemic, climate change and nuclear proliferation.

The U.S. will "take on directly" the challenges that China poses to "our prosperity, security and democratic values," he said.

"We'll confront China's economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive action, to push back on China's attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance," Biden continued. "But we are ready to work with Beijing, when it's in America's interest to do so."

Delivered during his third week in office, Biden's speech set the tone for a foreign policy sharing many themes with Trump's -- such as viewing China as America's biggest strategic competitor -- even while diverging in approach.

One area of cooperation with allies will be Myanmar, he said.

"Over the past few days, we've been in close cooperation with our allies and partners to bring together the international community to address the military coup in Burma," Biden said, referring to the country by its old name.

He called on Myanmar's military to relinquish power it has seized, release detainees, lift restrictions on telecommunications, and refrain from violence.

"We will work with our partners to support restoration of democracy and the rule of law and impose consequences on those responsible," Biden said.

Meanwhile, Biden promised that his foreign policy will work for the American people.

"There's no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy. Every action we take, and our conduct abroad, we must take with American working families in mind," he said, promising a "foreign policy for the middle class" and to fight so that "the rules of international trade aren't stacked against us."

His remarks echoed those by national security adviser Sullivan earlier that day at the White House.

"Our priority is not to get access for Goldman Sachs in China," Sullivan said. "Our priority is to make sure that we are dealing with China's trade abuses that are harming American jobs and American workers in the United States."

Biden also took pains to lay out how investing in diplomacy is not just the right thing to do, but "in our own naked self-interest."

"We strengthen our alliances, we amplify our power, as well as our ability to disrupt threats before they can reach our shores," he said.

Biden said the U.S. will host a summit of democracies early in his presidency -- a promise from his election campaign -- to "rally the nations of the world to defend democracy globally, to push back the authoritarianism's advance."

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