Biden to change US tune on climate, China

Paul Osborne
·3-min read

Pressure on Australia to be more ambitious about cutting emissions and greater trade and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific are expected to emerge from a Joe Biden presidency.

The US president-elect has flagged re-entering the Paris agreement and holding a global climate summit as two of the early priorities of his term.

The US pulled out of the Paris pact last week, a year on from Donald Trump's formal notification of withdrawal.

It will only take a month for the US to return under the Paris agreement rules, potentially happening as soon as February next year.

While Scott Morrison says he wants to achieve zero emissions "in the second half of this century", Biden wants a specific 2050 target date for his country - something many other nations and interest groups in Australia support.

Biden may also seek to take the heat out of tense US relations with China, something that could have positive ramifications for Australia.

Trump's anti-China rhetoric and actions went to extremes, labelling the coronavirus "kung-flu" and imposing billions of dollars of tariffs on Chinese goods, while accusing China of stealing American jobs.

Biden was vice-president of the US at the same time Xi Jinping was vice-president of China.

"A rising China is a positive development, not only for China but for America and the world writ large," Biden said in 2011 after a visit there.

More recently he has said he would lift tariffs on Chinese imports and use the World Trade Organisation and other multi-lateral bodies to ensure global trade rules are respected.

If he can restore better working relations with the trading giant it could make for better ties between Australia and China as well.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership could also be back on the table for the US - providing the new president with a powerful diplomatic way to urge China to play by the rules.

But the 77-year-old former Delaware senator would also need to convince his own Democratic party members of its merits.

Working concertedly with other nations such as Australia would also allow the new president to exert pressure on China to stop human rights abuses and cooperate on peace-building in the region.

During his visit to Australia in 2016, Biden talked up America's "laser focus" on the Pacific region and pointed to the need for security cooperation.

"The United States is here in the Pacific to stay. We are a Pacific nation. We are a Pacific power."

Like presidents before him, Biden will ensure the US-Australia alliance remains strong.

The Marine rotation through the Northern Territory, which began in 2012, could be expected to continue as well as other defence cooperation.

Biden noted during his visit four years ago the two nations had a shared passion about "freedom, the rule of law, democracy and the right of every person to be able to aspire to realise their dreams".

"We'll continue to write new chapters together that will not only benefit both our nations but ... the region and benefit the world."