No “war bounce” for Biden

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

Something has changed in America. Past Presidents were certain that participation in war would ensure high poll numbers, unfortunately for Biden his support for the war in Ukraine, his ability to get a number of countries to denounce Russia, and even some countries that were not part of NATO, to decide that they might want to join NATO, plus economic sanctions on Russia.   All of this war activity has not given him the “war bounce” that previous presidents have enjoyed.

With polls reporting that 40 percent of registered voters strongly disapprove, and 57 percent disapprove of how he is handling the presidency, Biden has now pivoted to Asia hoping this would improve his ratings.  Will this pivot improve his poll ratings?  Will it assist him in countering China’s increasing economic and political influence in the region?   

Last week Biden announced that 12 countries, Australia, India, Japan, Brunei, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam agreed to join the US led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).  Biden’s stated goal is to economically engage these participants so as to counter China’s increasing economic and political influence in the region.  However, 7 of the 12 countries also belong to China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). 

Biden also met with a sub group of the IPEF, the US backed coalition of Indo-Pacific Democracies, India, Japan, and Australia and they agreed on one major goal: They want to counter China’s rise as the dominant power in Asia.  This is redundant, but also illuminates the problem with US leadership.  They establish a group, but then establish a sub group that is more important than the larger group.  This layering leads to mistrust, envy and the ultimate breakdown of the coalition.

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) represent yet another economic block.  This block promotes commercial, political and cultural cooperation among its member states and does not care what party-political system a country adopts.  The block’s goal is to be independent and offer an alternative to the US and G7.  They have established BRICS Bank to scale back the use of the US dollar and to concentrate on loans designated in national currencies.  The goal is to offer the world, especially developing economies, an alternative model of socio-economic development based on the market and new technologies, but different from the current system that assumes the dominance of the West.

India’s participation in both IPEF and BRICS is interesting, because she has made independence from both the United States and Russia the centerpiece of her foreign policy.  More important is that Russia supplies India with 85 percent of its military weapon systems, and shares a 2,100 mile “disputed” border with China.   

Some experts on India report that India’s biggest nightmare is Russia and China aligned together, the war in Ukraine and Biden’s continued support of the war is creating India’s greatest nightmare.  This is precisely why Mr. Modi, rightly refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion, he is unwilling to jeopardize India’s strong ties with Russia over Ukraine.

A review of Biden’s proposal to the IPEF reveals that he has offered a “framework” that will help the US and Asian economies work more closely together on issues including supply chains, digital trade, clean energy, worker protections and corruption efforts.  America’s Congress is so dysfunctional that these issues are unresolved in America, the chances for this half-baked framework to succeed is unlikely.  Unlikely, because the details still need to be negotiated among member countries, making it difficult for Biden to show how US workers and businesses would benefit, and how global needs will be achieved.

While Biden is proposing a “framework,” the BRICS are implementing their programs for tackling climate change and promoting sustainable development.  They have initiated projects to share remote sensing satellites and data, the use of smart agriculture equipment like driverless tractors, in digital infrastructure and government services to reduce healthcare costs and make healthcare accessible to the public, and use of industrial internet and digital manufacturing to create more opportunities for young people.

While Biden’s focus is on the richer countries in Asia, China’s strategy includes most of these countries, but also include poor countries globally.  Of the 68 nations involved in China’s BRI, the sovereign debt of 27 are rated as junk, or below investment grade, by the top three international rating firms.  China’s intent is to open new business opportunities for domestic companies and extend China’s reach globally.  McKinsey & Co reports that this strategy would transform the fortunes of the developing countries along its route, and boost a region that will contribute 80 percent of global economic growth and move 3 billion more people into the middleclass by 2050.  Currently 139 countries have joined BRI.

Cao Yuanzheng, chairman of BOCI Research Limited when questioned about the countries with junk bond ratings, said that Sovereign debt ratings matter less than the financial stability of each specific project, emphasizing, “Even in the poorest countries, projects like public water system, electricity grid and railway are all commercially viable as long as there is income generated from user fees.”  It is obvious that this is China’s long term economic and geopolitical strategy to counter the US and Western countries global dominance.

Biden’s myopic view and incorrect assumption, that all countries desire to maintain the US as the dominant global economic leader, is incorrect.  The “old world order” where the US makes the decision and the world follows is over, if a country wants to lead it must offer benefits to the countries they want to lead.  The world is more complex, and any self-respecting leader of a country with over 1 billion citizens must act in the best interest of its citizens, not another nation’s interest.

BRICS countries represent 40 percent of the world’s population, when one includes BRI participating countries, it represents over 65 percent of the world’s population.  Importantly, BRI addresses the “infrastructure gap” created by the capitalist model of development, where natural resources are extracted from poor and previously colonial countries, to enrich the colonial masters.  The BRI has the potential to accelerate economic growth across Asia Pacific, Africa, Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe.  Biden’s pivot to Asia does not offer a competitive vision.

Finally, Biden’s pivot to Asia will not increase his poll numbers because inflation, precipitated by the war, is hurting Americans.  It will not counter China’s increasing economic and political influence in the region or the world, because America decided to become the consumers of the world, rather than the producers of the world, and shifted production overseas, decimated the middleclass and destroyed its purchasing power.  Access to America’s market is not the bonanza it used to be.