28.09.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Some observations on the US President’s most recent international trip

Some observations on the US President’s most recent international trip

US President Joe Biden’s trip from September 7 to September 11 was dominated by two equally remarkable events, both of which owe their significance to a single factor, the global confrontation between Washington and China, now the number two world power.

It is in relation to this confrontation that the results of the American president’s latest five-day sprint, in which the two main ports of call were India and Vietnam, should best be viewed. Although officially the main purpose of this foreign policy event was so that the currently number one world power could participate in the scheduled summit of the increasingly influential G20 grouping.

And the main focus of international media was on the results of several days of wrangling behind-the-scenes to decide on the wording of a specific paragraph of the extensive Leaders’ Declaration of the G20 summit concerning the situation in Ukraine, a (quasi-) state entity which is unique in today’s world and possibly in global history. The real status of that country could more appropriately be defined as a private military company, with a native leadership renting out the controlled population to wealthy nations as cannon fodder.

The current author sees the media obsession with Ukraine largely as a form of white noise that prevents us from focusing on the key arena in the current stage of the Great World Game, which, we repeat, primarily relates to the above-mentioned confrontation between the two leading world powers. Seen from that perspective, the main outcome of Joe Biden’s visit to India was not the content of final document of the G20 Leaders’ Declaration, but the statement made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the summit about the launch of an international project to create the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC).  The agreement on that project was signed by the leaders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, India, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and the EU, all of whom participated in the G20 summit.

 Although the name of the project includes no reference to the United States, Joe Biden’s outspoken comments made its involvement very clear. For example, he emphasized its “historic” significance, and emphasized that the world stands “at an inflection point in history”. These words were not spoken at random, as is clear from certain remarkable circumstances from first months of the current American administration, which NEO commented on at the time.

By that time (i.e. the first half of 2021), Washington had finally realized exactly why China’s emergence as the second global power represented the main challenge to the global position of the United States (and the infamous Western world as a whole). This challenge is not so much due to Beijing’s development of a powerful military (although that is also a factor) but to its success in implementing its global Belt and Road Initiative.

This Initiative was first announced in 2013 by Xi Jinping, who had just taken over as the leader of the PRC (although its implementation, in one form or another, had been underway since almost the beginning of the 2000s) and it dramatically boosted Beijing’s role in relation to what is often referred to as the Global South, which accounts for the majority of the world’s population. Moreover, unlike methods adopted by the West in order to establish its domination over the Global South a century ago, China has achieved this with the full approval of the countries in question.

This process unfolded relatively imperceptibly and, we repeat, it was only at the beginning of this decade that the U.S. realized the extent of its now evident global-political consequences. It was then, we assume that they pronounced the fateful words: “Now I behold the source of my doom!”  And this has nothing to do with Chinese aircraft carriers, or Sarmat or Poseidon hypersonic missiles. Therefore, in response to the Belt and Road Initiative, the so-called Cornwall Consensus. was formulated in summer 2021, on the initiative of the new U.S. administration. And several months later, another similar project was announced by the EU. That is why the issue of the struggle for influence in the Global South took center stage in the last summit of the G7, the grouping that still, to a certain extent, unites the leading Western nations.

In fact, in view of that last qualification, it will be interesting to note the decision of Italy (which, as we have said, signed the IMEC agreement in New Delhi) on its continued participation in the Belt and Road Initiative following the end of its current phase. Italy is the only G7 country participating in the Initiative. And Rome has been gripped by a passionate and truly Italian struggle on this issue. Meanwhile, Beijing has not given up hope that common sense will prevail. We will see what happens.

Nevertheless, the very fact that the IMEC project discussed above was adopted on the sidelines of the most recent G20 summit can be interpreted as the first concrete manifestation of the Collective West’s intention (which, ever since summer 2021, had been little more than a general statement) to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the Global South. Which, at the G20, was represented by India and the two leading Arab states.

The positive reaction by the latter two countries to the signing of the IMEC agreement was significant. Obviously, it is based on the desire, shared by the overwhelming majority of the countries of the “Global South”, to develop constructive relations (which serve their own interests) with all the main participants in the current stage of the Great World Game. Which include both former colonial powers and the countries that claimed to stand for decolonization. That desire is also behind the equally positive comments by a writer for the Arab News on the IMEC and the Belt and Road Initiative, and the hopes that the two projects (which are, in fact, competing initiatives) could coexist productively.

Let us add that only a perspective based on such hopes can enable the world to avoid the formation of new fault lines, which have almost always led to global political catastrophes. Otherwise, the dream of those who wish to provoke a new world war (which, surprisingly, they express quite openly), and who are already even now acting from opposite sides simultaneously, will find their dreams fulfilled. As happened during the buildup to the last two World Wars.

Finally, let us briefly look at the results of the American president’s stay in the second stopover point of his tour, Vietnam, which was no less remarkable. The motivation for Washington’s increased focus on this country and other areas of Southeast Asian sub-regions, has been discussed in a number of recent articles published by NEO. As we have already noted, the US is still primarily guided by its opposition to China. In furtherance of its goals it makes use of the various tensions- both current and historical – in Beijing’s relations with Hanoi, Manila and Jakarta.

One key recent event in the development of relations between America and Vietnam was the visit by the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Hanoi in 2021. Yet the first visit of an American president to Vietnam in modern times clearly marks the beginning of a fundamentally new stage in relations between the two countries.

The highlight of the visit was Joe Biden’s meeting with Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, which resulted in the adoption of an extensive joint statement establishing a bilateral Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. In passing, it is worth noting that the White House fact sheet on the meeting fails to mention the full title of Joe Biden’s interlocutor, simply referring to him as General Secretary, without saying of what. And it would indeed probably be better to avoid stating directly that a country that is very important to the US has a Communist government.

The fact sheet cited above describes Joe Biden’s visit to Vietnam as “historic” and notes that both countries expressed their intention to “work together to achieve our shared goals of peace, prosperity, and sustainable development.”  The preamble to the document notes that both Washington and Hanoi are parties to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a regional grouping founded in 2022, which is clearly opposed to China.

Another noteworthy aspect of the document is that it reflects Washington’s desire to involve Vietnam in creating international semiconductor supply chains that bypass China (just as it did with India).

The Vietnamese government would naturally have lost public support if this landmark document had failed to mention the ongoing problems caused by the US military’s use of different toxic chemicals during the war against Vietnamese insurgents half a century ago. And for Washington, in order to protect its long-term interests in Vietnam, it is extremely important that the document at least sets out measures making it possible to defuse the metaphorical delayed-action mine that these toxic chemicals represent. The document drawn up following the meeting thus contains a special section devoted to this topic.

On the whole, the American President may well be justified in presenting his overseas tour as productive in terms of furthering certain US foreign policy goals. However, as yet it is unclear how the results of this tour will affect the development of America’s relations with its key geopolitical opponent.

There are still too many uncertainties, both in relations between the US and China, and in the global political arena as a whole, for us to answer this question with any confidence.


Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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