Opinion: Biden’s multilateralism isn’t enough to defend America

Over the past four years, international conditions have changed radically and returning to the multilateralism of the Bush-Obama years won’t offer Joe Biden the leverage needed to deal with China and Russia.

The freedom for swift action that authoritarian regimes enjoy permitted China to quickly suppress COVID-19 and register economic growth in 2020, while Europe and North America suffered greatly from the pandemic and a recession.

China advancing everywhere

Confident in the belief that its system is superior, Beijing is pushing out in all directions—repressing Hong Kong, forcibly assimilating ethnic minorities, continuing a naval buildup that threatens U.S. interests and allies in the Pacific, and co-opting the European Union.

Despite China’s human-rights transgressions, the EU recently signed an investment and trade agreement with Beijing. European leaders point to market-opening opportunities, leverage on Beijing’s climate change policies, and commitments to support labor rights.

However, Beijing has broken numerous commitments on trade and investment in the past, is violating its promise to maintain a two-system one-nation policy in Hong Kong, and appears reticent about commitments on climate change.

Globally, China is the largest source of new greenhouse gases, and no possible solution to the planet heating up is possible without curbing its fossil- fuel use. Last September, Beijing pledged to reach peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2060 but China continues to build coal-fired plants. At the December Climate Ambition Summit, Beijing did not table any meaningful initiatives to reverse those plans.

China shows no remorse for failing to warn the world about COVID-19 and has sought to subvert the World Health Organization to avoid culpability. Now it is pressuring Australia and others who support a WHO investigation—and to refrain from taking issue with its treatment of Hong Kong and repression of Muslims in western provinces.

Europe recognizes threat, but does little

Trade and foreign investment are the cudgels Beijing uses to weaken Western resistance and punish critics. It is investing heavily in…