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When President Biden was sworn in shortly before noon on Wednesday, he inherited a host of foreign policy challenges from former President Donald Trump. Most he would have recognized from his time as vice president, but all of them have evolved in the meantime.
Biden’s predecessor in the White House can point to a few foreign policy achievements on his watch. These include the Abraham Accords, which established peaceful relations between Israel and several Arab countries; the killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; and the destruction of that group’s self-styled physical caliphate. But Trump’s attempts to charm North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un into giving up his nuclear weapons were an abject failure, and his withdrawal from the World Health Organization and decision to engage in a trade war with China have left a lot of pieces for the Biden administration to pick up.
First among the foreign policy challenges that the new administration faces is an increasingly assertive China, as Biden’s secretary of state nominee, Antony Blinken, made clear Tuesday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “There is no doubt that it poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state to the United States,” Blinken said.
Trump launched a trade war with China in 2018, and although the two sides reached an agreement to scale back hostilities in early 2020, Washington and Beijing have continued to trade blows, with Trump signing an executive order in November that banned Americans from investing in firms with links to the Chinese military. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, gave Trump another rhetorical cudgel with which to beat China and particularly its ruling Communist Party.
Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, who consolidated his hold on power during Trump’s tenure and is now effectively ruler for life, China in recent years has continued its military buildup, reinforced its claims to disputed territories in the South China Sea and sought to dominate international organizations, sometimes filling the vacuum left by the United States under the Trump administration.
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