With his trip to Europe Joe Biden aimed to turn over a new leaf vis-à-vis the Trump years. He did everything he could to win European hearts and minds, both in Brussels and with a number of bilateral meetings marked by a calm and conciliatory tone.The traditional posture of the leader of the free world that American presidents like to adopt hovered over an almost triumphant trip.
He paid tribute to the European Union and was able to speak in a way that many had hoped for, notably by reiterating the mutual defence clause mentioned in Article 5 of the Atlantic Charter. He demonstrated a finely-tuned preparation of this trip, which owes much to his Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
His meeting in Geneva with Russian President help him, in a very concrete and pragmatic way, to set clear limits to the Kremlin's incessant provocations, notably in cyberspace.
The NATO summit that preceded it was the occasion for some remarkable developments. A press release of 79 paragraphs (!) set out the Alliance's positions on all major international political issues, from North Korea to Latin America. This is, as we now recognise, its customary bid to extend the organisation's field of competence.
But the Europeans have found themselves de facto swept up and off into Asia. Some have been established there for a while, like France, which with its distant territories has borders on the shores of the Pacific. It has also sailed that ocean with the British in the name of freedom of navigation; others were more sensitive to Washington's policy towards China once they had been reassured of American protection in Europe.
In the name of the fight for freedom, America has risked resurrecting the memories of the Cold War in its desire to maintain world leadership, and it is understandable that this policy will be that of every American administration for a long time to come.
And so, the Europeans will soon face a brutal dilemma regarding China: will the values they represent take precedence over their commercial interests, or will the commitment to freedoms take precedence over current profits?
The European Union is increasingly determined to show its opposition to autocratic regimes, and in December 2020 it adopted a new sanctions instrument to promote its approach to human rights.
It might not have any choice as China's policy continues to roll forward. Repression in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, its disregard for international law in the former British colony as well as in the China Sea, its attitude in the Security Council, where it usually votes with Russia, its African ambitions, which are not really appreciated locally, and its suspicious military pretensions, make China, still a communist country, an ideological adversary whose relations with Europe can only deteriorate.
In Asia, Europe’s allies are still Japan, India, Australia, Korea and Vietnam, just like the Americans!
If China continues to disregard international law and challenge the foundations of universal rights, while claiming to be the world's leader, Europeans will be unable to remain complacent for long and prefer to trade with the largest residual dictatorship on the planet. They will have no choice but to join forces with the great democracies to defend an idea of freedom to which every human being aspires and to promote the model of the rule of law, the opposite of the dictatorship by a minority. This will be NATO’s triumph.