Promises to keep: The Hindu Editorial on Joe Biden’s first address to U.S. Congress

Promises to keep: The Hindu Editorial on Joe Biden’s first address to U.S. Congress

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Biden is on course to fulfilling agenda despite opposition at home and challenges abroad

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, U.S. President Joe Biden made clear that his administration would continue pressing forward with promises made during his election campaign last year, including vigorously meeting the health challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, kick-starting the engines of the U.S. economy to provide sustainable job opportunities in the digital era, and reasserting the position of his country as a driving force for democracy worldwide including pushing back on China’s aspiration to be a regional hegemon in Asia. Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office have been coterminous with arguably the most fraught times in recent U.S. history, given the devastation wreaked by the coronavirus on life and economic activity — making the U.S. the worst performer worldwide until recently surpassed on this grim scale by India. However, the Democrat has risen to the challenge posed by the virus, when compared to his predecessor Donald Trump’s response, in terms of signing into law a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill and funnelling direct payments of $1,400 per person to more than 160 million households. Reports suggest that this shot in the arm could boost economic growth this year to 6% or higher, and revive the nearly 8.4 million jobs lost to COVID-19 by 2022. Whether this will be enough to mollify the likely anger of wealthy Americans for the tax hikes he proposes to slap them with is unclear. Yet, it is not the economy but the wounds of racist hatred that he will have to work even harder to heal. The recent conviction of the police officer responsible for the death of African-American George Floyd represents but the first step toward bridging the chasm between prejudiced, overzealous law enforcement and racial minorities.

Notwithstanding the considerable progress made by the Biden administration in domestic politics, it is in the international arena that much work remains unfinished to repair the damage wrought by his predecessor, an isolationist who prioritised transactionalism and bilateral quid pro quo over strengthening the U.S. as a global voice for plurilateral cooperation and regional engagement. Mr. Biden, contrarily, has thrown down the gauntlet to China, assuring its President Xi Jinping that Washington would continue to maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific “not to start conflict, but to prevent one”. Recognising the multi-dimensional character of Beijing’s challenge to the rules-based international order, Mr. Biden has also vowed to stand up to “unfair” trade practices, including disallowed subsidies for Chinese state-owned enterprises and industrial espionage, as well as speak out on perceived violations of fundamental freedoms and rights relating to, for example, Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea and in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, respectively. Whether facing conservative opposition to domestic policies or hostile pushback on the global stage from geopolitical rivals, Mr. Biden must hold fast to the values that saw him elevated to the White House.

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