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World Leaders React To Biden Win


Admiral Stavridis has launched our discussion of what Joe Biden's election means for the world. Let's continue that discussion now with one of the world's best teams of international correspondents. NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us as well as NPR's Frank Langfitt in London and NPR's Rob Schmitz in Berlin. Welcome to all of you.



FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Great to be here, Steve.

INSKEEP: And let's get the big picture from Michele Kelemen. We've already heard the beginnings of Joe Biden's foreign policy priorities. How different is his approach to his predecessor?

KELEMEN: Well, I think it's what you heard Admiral Stavridis talk about. The big priority is rebuilding alliances. That's why we're hearing kind of a sigh of relief in a lot of places, in Europe, for instance. Rejoining the Paris climate accord, the World Health Organization, a return to a kind of more multilateral approach to the world. But he's also talked about a foreign policy that benefits the American middle class. And, you know, there was this group of foreign policy experts, some close to Biden, who went to Nebraska, Colorado and Ohio, recently, to hear the views of Americans. They found there, you know, a lot of support for Trump's tough talk about China but also a pragmatic view about trade, immigration and dealing with China, you know? They want trade deals that protect American jobs, global leadership but also not an overextended America. So I think some of those themes are going to be important for a Joe Biden presidency.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about the way that President Trump has embraced strongmen - remarkably, remarkably deferential to Russia's Vladimir Putin, said he's friends with President Xi Jinping of China even as he launched a trade war against him, the relationship with the leader of North Korea. We could go on and on. He was criticized for this. And yet every U.S. president tries to manage relations with various strongmen around the world, hopefully, in the interest of peace. How, if at all, would Biden be any different?

KELEMEN: Right. Well, I mean, Biden does have close personal relationships with a lot of leaders, but you're not going to see Biden praising Vladimir Putin. You will see him working together with Putin to extend new start, an arms control agreement with Russia. You won't see Biden exchanging love letters with Kim Jong Un, but you will see him trying to get denuclearization talks going on the Korean Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is another one to watch, Steve, you know? Trump went there on his first overseas trip. Biden has made clear that he's going to pull back U.S. aid to the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, for instance, and raise human rights concerns more than Trump did. Progressives in the Democratic Party are going to be pushing him to do more of that.

INSKEEP: OK. Frank Langfitt in London, the U.K., of course, is the closest ally the United States has had or has been. Boris Johnson is somebody very much in sympathy with President Trump and has a similar political approach. How has Boris Johnson taken his personal ally's defeat?

LANGFITT: Well, he offered congratulations and mentioned the - what they call the special relationship here. And he talked about ability - you know, an ability to look at trade, security, working on climate change, just like the admiral and just like Michele were mentioning. We are going to have the major climate change meeting coming up in Glasgow next year. So that will be an opportunity for them to work together. But, obviously, Boris Johnson, very close to President Trump by comparison. And so that's a little awkward.

INSKEEP: Do we know how Joe Biden feels about Boris Johnson?

LANGFITT: Yeah, we get the sense he's not a fan at all. I think this could be a big reversal of fortune, not so much necessarily for Britain writ large but definitely for Boris Johnson. So last year, Joe Biden referred to president - referred to Boris Johnson as kind of a physical and emotional clone of President Trump. And back in 2016, when a bust of Churchill was removed from the Oval Office, Johnson suggested it might be part of the Kenyan president's ancestral dislike of the British Empire. So he may have regretted writing that, frankly, now.

And, also, Biden - it's interesting. Biden is of Irish descent. He's also warned Johnson in his negotiations with the EU not to do anything that could threaten the peace agreement in Northern Ireland. And this evening, there was an exchange between a BBC reporter and President-elect Biden. And it went like this.


NICK BRYANT: Mr. Biden, a quick word for the BBC.

JOE BIDEN: The BBC. I'm Irish.

LANGFITT: I'm Irish. Now, he was smiling when he said that. But it's just - you get a sense of here is a new kind of leader with maybe a little bit of a different relationship with Boris Johnson and maybe a little different view of the United Kingdom.

INSKEEP: Irish and the British haven't always gotten along, to say the least. Rob, in - (laughter).

LANGFITT: No, historically, they have not, Steve. There's a bitter, bitter history. And I spent a lot of time in Ireland, and everybody there remembers it quite clearly.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, Rob, what is the response in Germany to this news?

SCHMITZ: I think it's fair to say German as well as many European leaders are collectively exhaling a sigh of relief today. President Trump has been a thorn in the side of Berlin from day one, whether it was his constant badgering of Germany to spend more on national defense or billions of dollars' worth of tariffs on German exports or his removal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accord or the Iran nuclear deal, he was likely the most difficult U.S. president Germany has had to deal with in the post-war era. The most recent Pew survey showed that just 10% of Germans were confident in Trump's handling of world affairs.

INSKEEP: And what can change, though? I mean, there are - you know? There are differences between Germany and the United States, differences over NATO, lots of things.

SCHMITZ: Right. I think, you know, a return to civility is going to be one change, you know? The tone of transatlantic dialogue will immediately change. I think we'll also see an eagerness by both sides to get back to work on problems that the two nations have in common to search for common solutions. I spoke to Constanze Stelzenmuller about this. She's a senior fellow at Brookings. And here's what she said.

CONSTANZE STELZENMULLER: Biden is never going to call the EU a foe. Biden is going to look at the EU and say this is a very useful source of leverage and additional power in dealing with issues that are important to America.

INSKEEP: OK. So that is one perspective from Europe. But while I have Rob Schmitz and Frank Langfitt, I want to ask about one more country. And I want people who don't recall that - both of you have covered China. Both of you speak Chinese and know the country very well. And this is the most important relationship in the world. It's been difficult for one American president after another. And President Trump had a particular approach. What changes now?

SCHMITZ: Well, Steve, we just heard from Constanze Stelzenmuller talking about issues that are important to America for Europe. And one of those big issues is going to be dealing with a more powerful and aggressive China. Both the U.S. and the EU have been trying to tackle this issue the past four years. But Trump made it very difficult by driving a wedge between the U.S. and Germany as well as the European Union. Suddenly, all parties were dealing with China separately, which benefited Beijing greatly. And now it looks like we're going to have alliance with the EU and America that will be facing China.

INSKEEP: Frank Langfitt, about 30 seconds here.

LANGFITT: Yeah, I think that what Biden will be hoping for is to work with the EU to still continue a very assertive policy but one that is far more strategic than what President Trump has been pursuing.

INSKEEP: And I suppose we should mention this is something that foreign policy experts have talked about, the possibility of the United States gaining leverage on a resistant China by gaining alliances. The Obama administration attempted something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Pacific allies. And there is now talk of a stronger, more coordinated effort between the United States and the European Union to confront China and try to continue to set the rules of the world.

That's NPR's Frank Langfitt, Michele Kelemen and Rob Schmitz. You're listening to Special Coverage on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.