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In Confronting China on Human Rights, Biden Can Learn from Reagan

Rasmus Sinding Søndergaard, The Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark

As Joe Biden considers making human rights a central part of his China policy, he can learn from how Ronald Reagan successfully integrated human rights into his foreign policy towards the Soviet Union.

Human rights issues are poised to play a much larger role in U.S.-China relations after Joe Biden takes over from Donald Trump. Much like his predecessor, Biden has signaled his intentions to be tough on Beijing but with a much stronger emphasis on criticizing human rights abuses like those against the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang and democracy activists in Hong Kong. As Biden moves to confront China on human rights while also seeking cooperation on issues of mutual interests, he can learn from how Reagan succeeded in doing this in his Soviet policy. History suggests that striking the right balance between criticism and dialogue will be crucial and that a key benefit of speaking out against human rights abuses by an authoritarian rival might be domestic. 


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“America is back” : Quelle politique pour l’Amérique latine ?

Isabelle Vagnoux, Aix Marseille Université, LERMA, UR 853, Aix-en-Provence, France

“America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it. Once again sit at the head of the table. Ready to confront our adversaries and not reject our allies. Ready to stand up for our values.”

Joe Biden, 24 novembre 2020

Pour la première fois depuis bien longtemps, le nouveau président des Etats-Unis est un fin connaisseur de l’Amérique latine et de la Caraïbe. Outre son soutien au Plan Colombie, à la fin des années 1990, Joe Biden s’est rendu à seize reprises dans la région pendant son mandat de vice-président de Barack Obama (2009-2017) et il a piloté le plan d’aide mis en place en 2015 pour l’Amérique centrale. En bref, c’est un « ami de l’Amérique latine » qui entre à la Maison-Blanche, selon la formule de Michael Camilleri (Inter-American Dialogue). Au-delà des incantations rhétoriques, la nouvelle équipe présidentielle entend bien rétablir l’esprit de multilatéralisme, d’échange et de partenariat avec les pays des Amériques qui avait prévalu pendant l’Administration Obama et sera en particulier réactivé pour aider à résoudre la tragédie vénézuélienne.

D’ordinaire, la région, pourtant fortement imbriquée dans le tissu démographique et politique états-unien, constitue rarement une priorité pour Washington, absorbé par l’Asie, le Moyen-Orient ou l’Europe. Cependant, les choses pourraient être différentes en 2021 pour quatre raisons : la crise migratoire, endiguée brutalement en 2020 par l’effet conjugué du choc de la pandémie et des mesures prises par  Donald Trump, mais qui reprend vigueur depuis octobre; les effets désastreux du COVID-19 en termes sanitaires et socio-économiques sur des sociétés déjà fragiles ; l’avancée de la Chine en Amérique latine ; le recul de la démocratie et la multiplication des manifestations contre les inégalités. En d’autres termes, la région apparaît comme un cocktail explosif, aux portes des Etats-Unis.

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Anglo-American relations 2.0: pressing the reset button?

Valérie AndréAix Marseille Université, LERMA, OREMA, Aix-en-Provence, France 

             The results of the 2020 US presidential election sent the British media into a frenzy of anticipation over the state of the special relationship. The news that Boris Johnson was among the first world leaders to have received a phone call from the President-elect was received with a sigh of relief, even if it didn’t entirely assuage all fears. The level of anxiety had been running especially high as the British Prime Minister was deemed to have enjoyed an exceptionally close personal relationship with Donald Trump. Memories of Boris Johnson’s hobnobbing with the President at international conferences, of Donald Trump’s public support for Johnson’s bid for the leadership of the Conservative party in the summer of 2019 and for a tougher stance in the Brexit negotiations, as well as of all the swagger and bluster on either side of the Atlantic, were seen as millstones round the Prime Minister’s neck which would drag him – and the United Kingdom – down to the bottom of the queue. The similarities between the leaders’ personal and political lives, two insiders running as outsiders, mavericks who had risen to the top of their own parties through pandering to the tastes of the rank and file and of an unusual electoral base, the echoing political slogans “America First” and “Take Back Control”, the readiness to resort to ‘alternative facts’, all could conspire to wrongfoot the British Prime Minister. If the tide had turned with Joe Biden’s victory it was feared that Boris Johnson would be left on the wrong side of history, in the company of those ‘strong leaders’ Donald Trump had taken a liking to.

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The British presence in the Mediterranean post-Brexit

Matthew Graves, Aix-Marseille Université, LERMA, Aix-en-Provence, France

When the then UK Minister of Defence Geoff Hoon attended the tercentenary celebrations of British rule over Gibraltar in the summer of 2004, the Spanish Foreign Secretary objected to London’s insensitivity towards Madrid’s sovereign claim in blunt terms: “It turns out to be very strange that in this 21st century, the military occupation of part of an EU member-state’s territory is commemorated by another member-state.”[i] Although a Downing Street spokesman downplayed the incident, affirming that Britain and Spain enjoyed “a good relationship (…) They are an EU and NATO partner”[ii], the commemorations came in the wake of the 2002 referendum on the Rock which saw nearly 99% of Gibraltarians reject shared British-Spanish sovereignty. Fourteen years later, Gibraltar voted once again near unanimously (96%) in favour of Remain in the EU referendum of 2016, but this time the self-governing British Overseas Territory, one of two in the Mediterranean alongside the sovereign bases of Cyprus to share land borders with EU member states, found itself at odds with the majority of UK voters who voted by a slender 4% margin in favour of Leave, albeit with the notable exceptions of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Today as the transition period for the United Kingdom and European Union to reach an agreement on their future trade and security relationship is fast approaching, Gibraltar epitomises the challenges facing British diplomacy in the Mediterranean now that it can no longer appeal to EU partnership with the riparian countries of southern Europe to leaven its strategic presence. 

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