Joe Biden dwelt on a welter of issues at his first press conference as President of the United States of America after just a little over two months in office. These included relations with China and his perception can scarcely impress the likes of President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
The United States, in step with its partners and allies, is going to hold China “accountable” in the region. Furthermore, it will press Beijing to follow the rules on a range of issues, notably the contentious South China Sea. The world awaits a response from China.
Mr Biden was as forthright as he could be. The other contentious issues that figured in course of his interaction with the international media were border security, delivery of vaccines and withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan scheduled for the 1st of May, a date by which fruition seems improbable if the guarded response of the occupant of the White House is any indication.
These are issues of tremendous contemporary import. As regards the border, most particularly the Mexican frontier ~ the wall that Donald Trump proposed remains a nonstarter ~ Mr Biden has faced criticism in recent weeks over the increased numbers of migrants crossing into the United States over its southern border with Mexico.
He said that “there is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year”.
There is hope yet in the context of his latest initiative that those who had come to the United States as children and have known no other place of residence will be offered citizenship. When he assumed office, President Biden had pledged 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days.
He has now doubled that commitment, in a statement couched in the pledge that “we will vaccinate “200 million in my first 100 days”. “I know it’s ambitious ~ twice our original goal. But no other country in the world has even come close, not even close, to what we are doing”.
On closer reflection, there was a palpable measure of negligent nonchalance, even stagnation, during the stewardship of his predecessor. The US has thus far delivered over 130 million doses of the vaccine, but it still lags behind some other countries when comparing the number of jabs done relative to the size of the population.
As regards the pullout from Afghanistan, Mr Biden admitted with remarkable candour that “it’s going to be hard to meet the 1st May deadline to get troops out” of Afghanistan. But he assured his audience that he is committed to continuing the pullout of all US forces from the fractious country.
There are now around 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan which is the lowest level since 2011, as the US continues the process of drawing down its forces there. From the President’s response, it was pretty obvious that the proposed pullout will remain a thorny issue for a while. From China to Covid, from the Mexican border influx to Afghanistan, President Biden did present an overview, clothed with signals of intent.