Biden fails to use Ukraine crisis to cover partisan struggles in US
State of the Union shuns provoking China, showing US limited ability: experts
Published: Mar 03, 2022 12:36 AM
Joe Biden Photo: CFP

Joe Biden Photo: CFP

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US President Joe Biden finally made his delayed State of the Union address local time Tuesday night, devoting a significant portion of the speech to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and mentioning China only twice while talking about international competition on the economy and technology. 

Biden's 62-minute speech was split between attention to the military conflict abroad and the Americans' worries at home, as he spent about 12 minutes on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and how the US will react. According to the AP, as Biden asked US lawmakers to "salute" Ukraine before his speech, "it was a notable show of unity after a long year of bitter acrimony between Biden's Democratic coalition and the Republican opposition."

Analysts said on Wednesday that Biden wants to use the Ukraine situation to make the struggling two parties as united as possible, but on urgent and serious domestic problems like inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic, the partisan struggle will not disappear and will continue. Biden's speech just shows he can deliver nothing more effective to heal domestic problems than sentimental words.

New 'Iron Curtain' speech?

Some observers found the speech which traditionally focuses on domestic issues has been impacted by the ongoing hot spot geopolitical conflict in Europe, and the harsh words Biden used against Russia might signal the return of the Cold War, but Chinese analysts consider that Biden's speech was not at the same level as the "Iron Curtain" speech delivered by late British prime minister Winston Churchill, and behind the over-effusive words of Biden's speech, they found the weakness of the US.

Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, said the Iron Curtain speech signaled the great change of the future international relations as the Iron Curtain split the world into two major blocs, but Biden's speech did not say the US will make significant changes to its strategy such as labeling Russia as its top enemy. 

Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "Biden wants to show his toughness toward Russia and his administration was fully prepared for what's going on, but this just makes the weakness of his administration exposed more clearly."

"If the US has been prepared for Russia's military operation in Ukraine, why is Washington still discussing with other countries on how to sanction Russia on SWIFT? If US intelligence agencies can make correct early-warnings about Russia's operation, but the White House failed to fully prepare for sanctions, the US' capability and national strength are in trouble," Shen said.

Biden said in his speech that "Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO Allies." But Shen said this is another pointless line that shows Biden's weakness. "This means the US will leave Ukraine alone even though Kiev pinned high hopes on Washington. To defend NATO? Did Russia say it wants to invade NATO?"

Ukrainian soldiers stand next to a burnt Ukrainian army vehicle on the west side of the capital Kyiv on February 26, 2022. Ukraine?and?Russia?are set to hold negotiations at the?Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Photo: AFP

Ukrainian soldiers stand next to a burnt Ukrainian army vehicle on the west side of the capital Kyiv on February 26, 2022. Ukraine?and?Russia?are set to hold negotiations at the?Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Photo: AFP

To compete with China

Clearly, Russia is not enough for Biden to boost unity between the two parties, so he mentioned "China" twice during the State of the Union address, but the China-related content was about US domestic affairs like the economy and technology, rather than geo-political strategy, and sensitive topics such as Taiwan, Xinjiang or Hong Kong were not mentioned.

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the US, amid the Ukraine crisis, wants to concentrate on dealing with Russia and as a result it did not further provoke China in terms of languages and tone.

Biden said: "It is going to transform America and put us on a path to win the economic competition of the 21st Century that we face with the rest of the world - particularly with China." And he said he told the Chinese national leader that "it is never a good bet to bet against the American people."

A Beijing-based expert on international relations who asked for anonymity told the Global Times that "he probably forgets that it's never a good bet when the US bets against Chinese people, and the latest example was the trade war launched by his predecessor with a heavy price upon American customers and the US economy, and sadly, he fails to correct these mistakes therefore his country and people will keep suffering."

Biden also said "We will buy American to make sure everything from the deck of an aircraft carrier to the steel on highway guardrails are made in America. But to compete for the best jobs of the future, we also need to level the playing field with China and other competitors."

Li Haidong, a professor from the Institute of International Relations of China Foreign Affairs University, said that Biden did not say very harsh words against China, only using China to strengthen his points to convince the US lawmakers to support his ideas on reforming economy and boost technological developments. "But this just exposes that he is concerned about competition in the fields of new economy and new technologies," Li said, adding that he needs to use China to win support from lawmakers in Congress. 

Problems unsolved

Apart from Russia and Ukraine, the Republicans barely applauded Biden's speech especially on domestic issues like fighting inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pullout from Afghanistan, Biden's approval rating reached the lowest point and now Newsweek reported that his approval rating has hit all-time low amid the Ukraine crisis, while NPR said a new poll finds a majority of the country said "Biden's first year was a failure." 

According to different polls by US media and institutes, Biden's approval ratings are about 37-41 percent. Diao said "it looks like Biden was empowered to just end the term of Donald Trump, but he didn't get authorized to push any reform, even within the Democrats."

Fan Yongpeng, a US studies expert and deputy director of the China Institute at Fudan University in Shanghai, said Biden cannot do his job on handling inflation and fighting coronavirus in 2022 as the midterm election is coming, and he cannot do the job in 2023 as he will very likely become a lame duck, and there is no chance in 2024 because the presidential election, and his term would be full of failures and misfortunes.