Trust: Easy to Lose, Hard to Regain

Credit: David Maiolo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The most significant negative impact of the Trump administration on the United States’ ties with allies and partners has been a loss of trust. There was a loss of trust not only in the international environment but also within the country during the Trump administration. It seems that the first issue that the new Biden administration will address is to be the restore of that trust. However, while trust is easy to lose, it is very difficult to regain, and sometimes even impossible.

From this point on, it seems that the Biden administration has preferred to start building trust domestically. Biden included African Americans, women and LGBT individuals in his cabinet and even assigned important duties to these segments of the society that remained in the background for a long time. On the other hand, the only solution for the United States to build trust in foreign policy and strengthen its alliances is to resolve the polarization in domestic politics. Apparently, Biden administration will struggle for this purpose for a while.

As for foreign policy, the United States will need to reassure its allies and partners that it is and will be by their side to regain its credibility. The signals given by the Biden administration in the first two weeks confirm exactly this approach.

The first example of this was a statement on the Senkaku Islands. The head of Japan’s National Security Secretariat, Kitamura Shigeru, and the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, talked over the phone on bilateral ties on Jan. 22. Sullivan has assured his counterpart that Senkaku Islands were covered by the United States-Japan Security Treaty. The same issue was later confirmed at a meeting held by the defense ministers of both states. Thus, the United States gave the signal that it would not hesitate to support its key ally in the “Indo-Pacific” region against China over the controversial Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

Similarly, US support for Taiwan was confirmed in a press release issued by the US Department of State on Jan. 23. In the press release, it was stated that the United States was concerned about the People’s Republic of China’s attempts to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan. In addition, Beijing has been invited to stop its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives. The United States did not hesitate to express its support for Taiwan quite clearly with the following statements: “We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo-Pacific region — and that includes deepening our ties with democratic Taiwan. The United States will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan. The United States maintains its longstanding commitments as outlined in the Three Communiqués, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the Six Assurances. We will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability. Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.”

Given that the Taiwan issue is China’s most prominent red line, it is clear how resolute the United States is in gaining the trust of its allies and partners in the region. This resolute stance of the United States towards China was clearly reflected in the readout issued by the White House after the Biden-Putin phone call on Jan 26. Although it was stated that the agreement to extend the new START agreement was welcomed, it was noteworthy that the United States renewed its firm support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. In addition, other concerns have been clearly expressed, such as the hacking of SolarWinds, reports of Russia putting a reward on the head of US troops in Afghanistan, Russian intervention in the 2020 United States elections, and poisoning of Alexei Navalny. This was seen as a sign that the United States would prefer a tough but sophisticated approach in its relations with Russia as well as with China.

Finally, US support by the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken for one of the United States’ allies in the region, the Philippines, which has conflicts with China in the South China Sea, is another manifestation of the US approach to the region. In a meeting with Secretary of State Teodoro Locsin, Jr of the Philippines, Secretary of State Blinken reiterated that a strong US-Philippines alliance is vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Blinken stated that the Mutual Defense Treaty is important to the security of both countries and covers armed attacks against the armed forces of the Philippines, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific including the South China Sea. Blinken also underlined that the United States has reject China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. Secretary Blinken has also pledged to stand with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of PRC pressure.

These foreign policy moves of the Biden administration confirm that the Asia Pacific will continue to be the number one priority of the United States’ foreign policy. It is clear that the new administration will first have to put a significant amount of energy into the domestic challenges of the United States. In this new period, it is seen that the United States will simultaneously strive to strengthen its alliances and partnerships abroad, thus seeking to recover from the convalescence period in a short time. It would not be wrong to claim that Russia and China will attempt to test the United States’ determination in the short term. Only if the United States passes these tests will it truly regain the trust of its allies and partners and prove again to be a primary force in global politics.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.