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US: Biden outlines immediate foreign policy goals

February 5, 2021

Joe Biden outlined his foreign policy priorities in a speech at the State Department. Promising that "America is back," he discussed an array of pressing topics, from Myanmar to Moscow, via US military bases in Germany.

US President Joe Biden
President Biden has, for now, halted his predecessor's decision to withdraw troops from GermanyImage: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden on Thursday heralded a new era as he reassured the watching world that "America is back."

In his first diplomatic speech since becoming president, Biden signaled a no-nonsense approach to China and Russia, urged Myanmar's military leaders to bring their coup to an end, said the US would no longer support Saudi offensives in Yemen, and halted the withdrawal of US troops in Germany.

As part of a list of policies in stark contrast to Donald Trump, he also announced a more open policy regarding refugee admissions.

'Advancing authoritarianism'

Speaking at the State Department, Biden said: "American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy."

"Investing in our diplomacy isn't something we do just because it's the right thing to do for the world," he continued. "We do it in order to live in peace, security and prosperity."

Keeping troops in Germany for now

President Biden has halted Donald Trump's plans to withdraw US troops from Germany.

Biden said the pullout would be stopped until Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had conducted an extensive review of the United States' global military presence.

Last year, then-President Trump announced he was going to withdraw some 9,500 of the roughly 34,500 US troops currently stationed in Germany. 

Trump announced the cuts after repeatedly criticizing the NATO ally's defense budget, which is increasing but remains well short of the alliance's target of 2% of GDP.

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Russia — no more 'rolling over'

Biden said he would not accept Russian President Vladimir Putin's strong-arm tactics against the West. He also called for the unconditional release of Kremlin-critic Alexei Navalny, who was earlier this week given a lengthy jail term.

"I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia's aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens, are over," he said.

Biden also gave a stern defense of Navalny and heavily criticized the Kremlin's treatment of the opposition leader.

Navalny narrowly escaped death after being poisoned last year. He, along with the EU, blames Russian security services for the nerve agent attack.

Russia has also used heavy-handed tactics on those protesting on Navalny's behalf.

"The Russian efforts to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are a matter of deep concern to us and the international community," Biden said. "Mr Navalny, like all Russian citizens, is entitled to his rights under the Russian constitution. He's been targeted for exposing corruption. He should be released immediately and without condition."

Navalny supporters in prison

We must 'confront China'

Trump had initially sought a warm relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, differences over trade, Hong Kong and what the US military called China's destabilizing and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, sparked a rift between the two nations which has yet to heal.

Beijing, which is expanding its military and making efforts to increase its global influence, is the United States' "most serious competitor," according to Biden.

"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," he said, before offering an olive branch: "But we're ready to work with Beijing when it's in America's interest to do so."

Myanmar — Generals must go

Biden said the United States was working with allies and partners to address the military coup in Myanmar, that began on Monday.

"There can be no doubt, in a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election," Biden said in reference to last November's ballot that saw Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi win a huge landslide.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the White House was considering targeted sanctions on individuals and on entities controlled by the military.

Seeking halt to conflict in Yemen

President Biden said the United States was ending its support for a five-year Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian peninsula's poorest country.

"The war has created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe," Biden told diplomats. "This war has to end."

The move comes as a rebuke to Saudi Arabia, a global oil giant and US strategic partner.

More refugees to be accepted

Joe Biden also wants to raise yearly refugee admissions to 125,000 in the coming fiscal year, a more than eight-fold increase after former President Trump slashed levels to historic lows.

Biden said he would approve an executive order to increase the capacity to accept refugees in the face of "unprecedented global need."

Trump portrayed refugees as a security threat and a drain on resources.

"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged," Biden said. "But that's precisely what we're going to do."

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jsi/msh (AP, Reuters)