Biden to call for new ‘chapter of intensive diplomacy’ in UN speech

US foreign policy updates

Joe Biden will attempt to rally allies and partners to open a new “chapter of intensive diplomacy” aimed at countering China and other global challenges in his first speech to the UN General Assembly, a senior US official said.

The address on Tuesday comes as Biden contends with frayed diplomatic relations with western powers over the chaotic exit from Afghanistan and the launch of a new strategic alliance with the UK and Australia that has left France furious.

Biden “will communicate tomorrow that he does not believe in the notion of a new Cold War with the world divided into blocs,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of his speech.

The US president will also say that Washington and Beijing should work together on the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change. “He believes in vigorous intensive, principled competition that does not tip over into conflict,” the official said.

Biden would attempt to secure support for cross-border initiatives on emerging technologies, rules of the road on trade and economics, investments in clean infrastructure and a “modern approach to counter-terrorism” after ending 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the official said.

The Biden administration is struggling to keep co-operation with Beijing on subjects such as climate change from being hampered by rising tensions between the two countries over China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, aggressive military stance towards Taiwan and alleged mistreatment of Muslim Uyghurs. The US president has framed Washington’s relations with China as a competition “to win the 21st century”.

Biden might have expected a “hero’s welcome” at the start of the year from the UN, where his predecessor Donald Trump had rejected “the ideology of globalism” and endorsed a narrow, nationalistic vision, said Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group. “Western diplomats in New York obviously vastly prefer the Biden team to the Trump team.”

But the US’s leadership role at the international body has since then been complicated by discontent over the Biden administration’s position towards Israel and the Palestinians during the Gaza war earlier this year, the Afghanistan withdrawal and the risk that Trump could return if he makes another run at the presidency in 2024, he added.

Biden has incurred the wrath of close Nato allies in recent days over the deadly drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan, which stranded UK and German personnel and many of the Afghans who helped them.

He has also come under fire for overlooking France in a new submarine deal with Australia and the UK, prompting Paris to recall its ambassadors to the US. One European diplomat said Biden’s claims of support for his allies had been undermined by his actions on Afghanistan and the submarine deal.

Gowan said Biden would need to say something convincing about why US leadership was better for the world than Chinese leadership without sounding as “shrill and xenophobic” as Trump had done. “The overarching US priority remains working out how to counter China,” he added.