BIDEN, END OF THE HONEYMOON IN ALASKA?

From racist attacks in the country to difficulties in international politics, in addition to the dangers of inflation that hang over the economy and financial markets: for the US President the honeymoon seems to be over.

 

While in an ABC interview Joe Biden challenges Vladimir Putin by answering an insidious and predetermined question of the journalist, the whole world wonders if it was necessary and which is the purpose of “Silent Joe”. Above all, one wonders how much distance there is between the words of the new U.S. president and the “tolerance” with which Obama has always avoided an open diplomatic confrontation with Russia, leaving the field open on very hot issues such as the Syrian conflict or Iran.

 

Subsequently, the summit in Alaska between China and the United States, which inaugurated the administration’s foreign policy, also had a turbulent start amidst mutual accusations. On the one hand, the US raised again the issue of human rights on the two controversial chapters of Taiwan and Hong Kong, on the other hand, the Chinese kept the point, showing that the development plans on 5G and environmental issues are concrete and that the game of geopolitical hegemony is open. In fact, the Chinese have been buying oil from Iran and Venezuela for months despite the US embargoes. The aim is to hinder Biden’s action and make the two countries less subject to American pressure, to redefine roles and agreements in two areas such as Latin America and the Middle East, which thus remain always incandescent. Their instability continues to encourage migratory flows that spill over to the borders with the U.S. and to make impossible a plan for political and civil recovery in Lebanon and Syria.

 

The geopolitical picture remains complex: after this meeting in Alaska, the Cold War takes on harsher tones and the tug-of-war between Biden and Xi clashes with the strategy document on National Defense, in which the new Administration has outlined a primary role of diplomacy and the apparent abandonment of the impetus of military force, which is relegated to a last resource. On the contrary, an unbalance towards a greater “civil commitment” of the armed forces has been announced, which, given the vaccine emergency is certainly very coherent, but could create some dysfunction between operations and the necessary coverage and management of missions abroad, also because China’s military policy, just like Russia’s, goes well beyond its borders and extends to areas of interference, Africa and Latin America.

 

NO PEACE FOR ASIAN AMERICANS, EVEN AT HOME

As if the domestic emergency related to the extremism seen in the assault on Capitol Hill on January 6 were not enough, now the greatest concern turns to hate crimes against Asian Americans, especially in California and Georgia, culminating in the Atlanta massacre a few days ago, in which eight women were killed. There are more than 3,800 reported cases of racism against Asian communities in the country, linked not only to a stigmatization of the origin of the virus by the previous administration, but also to the increase of the serious economic effects of the pandemic, which, as in previous war situations, has led to a civil clash between communities, especially in areas such as Georgia. In the last 50 years in Georgia the children of immigrants who have now become naturalized Americans have successfully fulfilled the American dream in professions as well as in politics and social inclusion, in one of the most populous and multicultural American states, with the busiest airport in the world, that of Atlanta. The state that was at the center of the runoff voting in the last elections and also the most exposed to climate change and therefore sensitive to the commitment of the U.S. government to the Paris COP26 agreements.

 

The visit of Biden with the vice president Kamala Harris in Atlanta was already planned because it marked the beginning of a tour to verify the results of the vaccination campaign. Because of the massacre, however, it has also become the occasion for a necessary confrontation with the representatives of the Asian-American community that has renewed the controversy on the decree for the control of the sale of weapons.  The measure is blocked in Congress and has been shelved despite being among the priorities of the election campaign of Biden, who had made clear promises on this aspect, unfortunately recurring in the massacres of innocent citizens in the U.S., as in the cases of schools recalled several times in the past by Biden.

 

THE EUROPEAN GAME: A FRIENDLY MATCH ON SOLID “NEGOTIATING” BASES

Instead, where Biden should not encounter any obstacles is the European game.  The season of relations is reopened with a priority regarding the “digital tax”: last year, before the summer, the Americans had withdrawn from negotiations and now, during the Italian presidency of the G20, we will have the burden of managing the resumption of work on a multilateral project, mostly aimed at the US digital giants, at least in the OECD’s plans. This and other topics should become part of a common platform for a regulation on a technology sector that in numbers remains predominantly American: according to Bank of America, in the tech sector the value of US companies exceeds 9 trillion dollars, which corresponds to the capitalization of all European stock markets, including Switzerland and Great Britain.

 

The European debate on the digital tax is taking on contours that instead of helping to define a stable, shared and long-term plan, aimed at avoiding international disputes, risk creating further complexity for EU companies. The challenge of digitization cannot be met by launching into tax disputes; we should focus on spreading digital access, products and services, as we have learned from the pandemic. Precisely because the technology companies listed in Europe are a small percentage compared to the American reality, we should focus more on the resilience, security and stability of a European digital infrastructure, finding a dialogue with the US that does not become a boomerang for European companies with excessive taxation.

 

There is a common ground from which to start, and it is the union of intent on climate change with the USA, which will return to the negotiating table at COP26 in Glasgow, as reiterated in January by John Kerry on an official visit to Brussels, and it is extremely promising to see not only the EU and USA, but all 196 countries move from political proclamations to the hoped-for action plan. The common path to the Green New Deal will also move infrastructural investments that see technology as the mainstay for efficient solutions: from agritech to biotech and beyond.

 

On the background of this growing wave of nervousness and new chapters of an increasingly cold war between the US, China and Russia, what is certain is that US companies are starting to have problems, with international trade affected by deficiencies in logistics and transport structures and disproportionate container costs imposed by China. Moreover, even in the USA there are production problems, in a pandemic situation that will not return to normal in the short term, despite the excellent prospects already inherent in the overheating of inflation and the yields of longer maturity Treasuries.

 

However, estimates on the country’s recovery speak of +7% in the second half of the year, which could even surpass China, despite the fact that the latter started with a significant time advantage, thanks both to a winning strategy on the vaccination campaign and to the massive recovery package of 1.9 trillion dollars just launched.

Powell did well to calm down, considering the inflationary pressure transitory (after the vote of the members of the Fed Board who, by a large majority, see rates fixed until 2023), while for Biden’s foreign policy the fire burns and risks becoming persistent, fueling the nervousness of investors, as well as that of Putin!

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About the author, valentina.attanasio@gltfoundation.com

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