US Election 2020 Key Issues: Foreign policy, global order and where Trump and Biden stand

Ahead of the polls, while Donald Trump has singled out China in his foreign policy agenda, Joe Biden seeks to reverse several foreign policy decisions made by the incumbent administration

FP Research November 02, 2020 12:31:28 IST pollpedia
US Election 2020 Key Issues: Foreign policy, global order and where Trump and Biden stand

Representational image. Reuters

During the four years of the Donald Trump presidency, United States’ relations with institutions and governments in the rest of the world have diverted significantly away from tradition. The presidential election in 2020 will decide if American foreign policy is to continue reflecting Trump’s chutzpah — and sometimes his naïveté — or if it will be pulled back to more conventional ways.

While in 2017 the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Paris Agreement on climate, 2018 witnessed the Trump administration officially shift its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in addition to Trump himself meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after months of escalating tension.

In 2019, the United States ramped up cries about a “trade war” with China, raising tariffs on Chinese goods and imposing restrictions on Chinese companies. This year, in addition to ceasing funding of the World Health Organisation (WHO) amid a global pandemic, the United States involved itself in a number of Israel’s bilateral relationships, including those with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan.

In the run-up to the 2020 election, while Republican Trump has singled out China in his foreign policy agenda, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seeks to reverse several foreign policy decisions made by the Trump administration in order to “restore American leadership”.

Where Trump stands

In Trump’s election agenda for re-election in 2020, China features ahead of key subjects such as healthcare, education and even immigration, making clear who the president considers his country’s greatest adversary. Trump promises to “bring back” a million jobs from China, end federal contracts to companies who outsource work to Chinese employees, and “hold China accountable” for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January 2018, Trump seemed to threaten nuclear retaliation to North Korea’s weapons testing programme. Since then, Trump and North Korean leader Kim met thrice to discuss nuclear disarmament, with Trump even claiming that they “fell in love”. However, dialogue between the two nations has since stopped and United States’ efforts to persuade Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons have stalled. The Trump campaign has detailed no plan on the future of the United States-North Korea relationship.

On the subject of troop deployments, Trump has called for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan to end United States’ longest war. Earlier this year, Trump decided to withdraw 12,000 American troops from Germany and relocate United States military’s European headquarters from Germany to Belgium. This has been considered by many as a strong rebuke to Germany, a close American ally.


The United States under Trump has also withdrawn from a number of significant international alliances, including from UNESCO for having an “anti-Israel bias”, from the Iran nuclear deal to restore harsh sanctions on Iran, from the TPP under his ‘America-first’ policy, from the Paris climate accord citing economic burdens, from the UN Human Rights Council calling the institution hypocritical, and from the WHO for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where Biden stands

As with several other key issues this election, Biden and the Democratic camp seek to reverse many foreign policy measures undertaken by the current administration and “restore leadership on the world stage”.

Biden calls Trump’s handling of the United States-China relationship “weak”. He believes China relishes an unstable Trump administration, Trump’s strained relationship with America’s allies and United States’ withdrawal from leadership roles in international organisations.


Biden plans to make amends by bringing multilateral pressure to bear on the Chinese government. He also wishes to mobilise pressure on Beijing to improve its behaviour towards the Uighur citizens and towards Hong Kong.

In North Korea, Biden pledges to restart Washington’s negotiations with Pyongyang. He plans to achieve this through a “sustained, coordinated” campaign with American allies, among which he includes China.

The former vice-president welcomed the United States-brokered peace and economic deals concerning Israel, UAE and Bahrain which were signed in the White House in September. “A Biden-Harris administration will build on these steps, challenge other nations to keep pace, and work to leverage these growing ties into progress toward a two-state solution and a more stable, peaceful region,” Biden said.

On troop withdrawals from abroad, Biden said his administration would bring most American troops home from Afghanistan and West Asia, while continuing on a narrower mission on the Islamic State and al Qaeda. He also plans to end American support for the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen, which Trump has defended.

Biden pledges to restore some of the United States’ relations with global organisations, relationships that were strained or severed under Trump. If elected, he promises to rejoin the Paris climate accord and the WHO, and strengthen alliances like NATO.

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