Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Difficult Midterm Election Shapes Biden’s 100-Day Strategy

Joe Biden understands he has little time to accomplish the legislative agenda he believes his election provided him. He has wisely focused on the public’s highest priorities of pandemic management and COVID-19 financial relief. Infrastructure, his next big item, is a lower public priority, but has powerful constituencies. It will be a longer project, but doable in the first year.

Biden’s main hazard to passing legislation is the well-established history of a new president’s first midterm election being a disaster. The average since Ronald Reagan’s first midterm election is a House of Representatives loss of more than 40 seats. And, of course, Democrats only have a four-seat majority in the House and are tied in the Senate.

Democrats hope Biden’s performance will help make a difference in the November 2022 outcome. The data in the National Dashboard today:

  • Presidential approval is a net 12 points positive, with Biden now at 53 percent approval in RealClearPolitics ratings (similar rating at 538 – 53% to 41%). Biden has slid down a couple of points from his opening at 55 percent as Republican partisans have turned more negative.
  • The public’s view of the direction of the country has improved and is now at 44 percent, up from 39 percent last year, with still 49 percent believing its going in the wrong direction. Also, the Dow is up 11 percent in 2021 for a very positive first quarter.
  • The Democrats have 218 seats, the Republicans 212 and 5 are vacant. Hence, if 4 House seats shift, Kevin McCarthy becomes the Speaker. Both parties have extreme factions that are hard to govern, but Republicans have the advantage today.

Bull Market Continues

The extraordinary one-year bull market continued into the first quarter of 2021. The Dow was up 7.8 percent at the end of March, or more than 2300 points above the record high of 30606 at year-end. The 2009 11-year bull market ended abruptly on March 23, 2020 during the pandemic plunge (20% down). But, it was restored by August 18, 2020 when a 52 percent climb crossed the previous high. The five-month bear market was only a blip in the extraordinary climb in stock indexes for more than a decade. The brief bear market had little impact on the averages, which all ended 2020 higher (Dow 7.2%, Nasdaq 44%, S&P 16%).

Typically, the first year after the start of a new bull market is good for the Dow. Specifically this year, investors – both institutional and individual – perceive continued low interest rates (1.9% 10-year Treasury) and a major economic recovery from increasing vaccination rates and a second $1.9 trillion stimulus expenditure as ensuring continued stock valuations.

In early 2021, money rotated out of technology, which had a banner 2020, up 44 percent and into the Dow. It gained more in the first quarter than all of 2020. Energy prices also doubled from about $32 per barrel in March 2020 to $66 at the end of March 2021.

If there is a caution signal, it relates to the accelerated pace of the recovery and the pressure on prices (oil for example) and bond yields, which nearly doubled since years-end.

Read: Market Crosses 30000 in Year of Historic Disruption

Sports and International Politics – The Olympics in Tokyo

The 2020 Olympics and Paralympic games were postponed for the first time in history due to the coronavirus. But, Japan is committed to the games in the summer of 2021. It is a powerful reminder of the importance countries attach to hosting and participating in international sporting events. 

The Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research and the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies presented a conversation on value, importance and impact of the Olympics and international sports on foreign policy. Leading foreign policy experts from the Korbel School and from Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan will provide analyses on what the games mean for countries, athletes and the world. The program will be moderated by Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center.

Tokyo, Japan | Getty Images

Professor Koji Murata – Professor of political science at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan

  • The 1940 Olympics in Tokyo were cancelled because of WWII. Later, Japan hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics. The Olympics totally changed Tokyo and it became a modern city.
  • Fifty-six percent of Japanese respondents are opposed to Tokyo’s Olympics and 36 percent said they should be cancelled. Only 9 percent think they should be held. If they’re cancelled, $45 billion will be lost, while $20 billion will be lost if held without any audience and $14 billion if they are grossly simplified.
  • Elections in Japan will be held this fall after the Olympics. If the Olympics are successful, national sentiment will be increased and Prime Minister Suga will be able to maintain his position and cabinet.
  • Two concerns remain: How many countries will attend, and how the Japanese government will organize the Olympics for Japanese society.

Professor Timothy Sisk – Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver and Director of the Institute for Comparative and Regional Studies at the school

  • Issues in the news today regarding EU sanctions against China bring up the issue of participation with regard to Beijing’s winter Olympics in 2022.
  • Should athletes be held hostage to international politics? The ancient Greeks had a truce around the Olympic spirit. The International Olympic Committee Rule 50 states that sports and politics are separate.
  • If the voices of a Beijing boycott succeed, it puts the Olympics in jeopardy for the long-term.
  • The United Nations and international development organizations see sports as a lever. From the IOC perspective, they are building a tolerant society around the world — using “sport diplomacy” to bridge international rivalries.
  • The Tokyo Games are seen as a “coming out” from the pandemic. The Chinese had offered to vaccinate athletes, but it wanted to use a vaccine China prefers. Vaccines will not be mandatory, but uncertainty exists around select groups of athletes having access to vaccines. 
  • In the same way that we saw our political conventions go online successfully, televising the Olympics and moving to a remote approach through technology may provide a good viewing experience. 

Professor Sisk used an extensive PowerPoint on the many aspects of politics and sports, especially the Olympics, studied by academics, including international, diplomatic, social psychological, sociological and commercial.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Guiding Principles of the New China

China after 2012 and the ascension of Xi Jinping to his presidency is dramatically different than pre-2012 China. It is guided by a series of principles that are repeated by leadership in their domestic statements and documents, used by the foreign ministry and published by sanctioned media. The first principle, “a century of humiliation,” refers to the period from 1839 to 1949 when Western and foreign powers intervened and dominated the Chinese Empire. It is a nationalist argument for China to resist all foreign interference and maintain control of its territory. Many additional principles flow from it, such as “people of Asia must run affairs of Asia.” China interprets criticism and sanctions as interference in its sovereignty and core interests, which includes control of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Guiding Principles

  • Century of humiliation
  • China’s rise is inevitable
  • U.S. is in irreversible decline
  • People of Asia must run affairs of Asia
  • West is trying to stop China’s rise
  • Battle of narratives, not values

Some, such as the first principle, have been around for decades, but others are new. Frequently stated in the Xi era are “China’s rise is inevitable,” accompanied by “the U.S. is in irreversible decline,” which has become a common view referenced among other criticisms of the West’s handling of the 2008 economic collapse and the U.S.’s 2020 pandemic response. Of course, any actions that the U.S. and the West in general are taking in Asia are described as attempts to stop China’s rise. 

Finally, with the “battle of narratives, not values,” China promotes the view that it believes in democracy, but it is their version and the American version is grossly flawed. Witness the events and surrounding claims of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020 and the long-running November 2020 “stole the election” drama. 

Guided by these principles, the West can expect a very competitive environment during the Xi era.

Free and Open Indo-Pacific: The Quad

Can the Quad shift from a concept to reality?

President Joe Biden’s first multilateral meeting was to host the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) in its first meeting of heads of government since it was conceived more than a decade ago. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan described the summit of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. as a “critical part of the architecture of the Indo-Pacific.”

The Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, with the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, the Center for China-US Cooperation and the Consulate-General of Japan in Denver sponsored a panel of leading foreign policy experts from Japan and the U.S. on the potential for a joint strategy and unified actions to defend the rule of law and democratic values in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Quad: President Joe Biden (top left), Japanese Prime Minister
Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian
Prime Minister Scott Morrison participate in the virtual Quad meeting,
March 12, 2021 | Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Professor Nobukatsu Kanehara – Senior advisor to the Asia Group, Tokyo; Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary to Prime Minister Abe; Deputy Secretary-General of the National Security Secretariat.

  • In the late 1980s through the 1990s, one by one many Asian nations turned to democracy. First, the Philippines (1986), then the Republic of Korea (1987), then the maritime Asian nations. Taiwan’s leader succeeded in turning Taiwan into a true democracy. We have to expand this liberation to all of Asia.
  • The big challenge is China. When China joined the WTO (2001), Japan thought this was a new China and that it wouldn’t go back to Mao’s extremism. Unfortunately, China has stepped into Soviet shoes and is standing against the West.
  • Xi is like Mao: He wants to make a great legacy by conquering territories without the consent of the people. 
  • China will be larger than the U.S. in terms of economic size by 2030. If nations like India, Australia, Japan, the U.S. and others come together, China won’t become a global hegemon, but remain a regional hegemon. 
  • When we talk about the CPTPP, everyone joins in; when we talk about military affairs and strategies, not many raise their hands. 
  • Xi is a man of the sword. He’s a fighter and is determined to take back Taiwan. There’s no NATO here with nuclear weapons and tanks. We have to show that we’re in alliance and China isn’t in an advantageous position. We wish to expand Quad and have others join — Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore — to 10 or even 20 countries.
  • Japan is now an aging nation and more of its national budget is going to Medicare and pensions. We can’t keep pace with China. Technology and well-crafted strategy are needed. We can’t face China by quantity; we have to do it by quality.

Professor Suisheng “Sam” Zhao – Professor on foreign policy at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in Denver and director of the Center for China-US Cooperation

  • The Quad started in 2004 in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami. The countries met to coordinate a response. The Quad died after 2007, but Trump revived it. In 2019 the Quad began to have meetings at a ministerial level to talk about regional issues. Biden is interested in reviving the Quad as it begins to address China. With four democracies working together in the Indo-Pacific, is it more symbolic than substantive?
  • Polling shows clearly that democracy is declining and authoritarian governments are increasing. American democracy, in particular, is in trouble. Biden says “America is back,” but it’s back in a new time.
  • The pandemic is a landmark for authoritarianism. It’s a way for China to prove that its authoritarian system was more effective in dealing with crisis and that it controlled the spread and quickly recovered economically. China was the only major country in 2020 that had positive economic growth.
  • China has abandoned traditional diplomacy and foreign policy. Its own interest cannot be compromised and it’s willing to go to war over them. 
  • U.S. allies and the Quad (the liberal democracies), continue to share values, but they’re more interested in the damage to their national interests by China. Even on security issues, each has a different interest than the U.S.
  • The U.S. has 60-100 allies. China only has North Korea and Pakistan, and its most powerful ally, Russia. China has trouble with its neighbors.

Professor Floyd Ciruli – Professor of public opinion and foreign policy at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research

  • The Biden administration is focusing its full attention on Asia. Its first meetings were with Japan and leaders from Australia and India.
  • The initial meeting with China set the tone for competition with engagement on some issues, such as climate change, but disagreement on values, such as human rights, rule of law and democracy.
  • This is a very different China from 2012; it’s the Xi era. U.S. policy has also shifted beyond the optimistic viewpoint that “China will evolve,” the Obama administration’s initial pivot to Asia, and President Trump’s transactional trade-related strategy.
  • The U.S.’s China strategy of competitive engagement needs allies. Japan is in a prime position. The Quad is now activated and support from European allies is important. Votes in the UN will be valuable.
  • China and Russia have developed an alliance that is anti-U.S. and has reversed the shift that began with Nixon in 1971 (50-year swing).
  • China’s behavior toward Hong Kong and Taiwan shows a stepped-up and aggressive assertion of territorial claims.
  • China’s behavior related to COVID-19 has led to an unfavorable shift in U.S. and democratic countries’ opinions away from China and its leaders. China is seen as a threat among Americans.
  • A new era in U.S.-China relations will involve considerable competition. Values and ideals will be the main instruments of competition. The U.S. will use diplomacy, development aid and financing, and communication strategies. It will present a contrast between autocracy vs. liberal democracy.
  • Domestic policy is critical to foreign policy; we must “get our house in order” (Biden).

The panelists’ concluded that a new era has been launched in U.S.-China relations. It is now the primary focus of America’s foreign policy and is affecting domestic policy – from resolving the pandemic, to addressing infrastructure to strengthening democracy.

Xi Era

Delegates applauded Chinese President Xi Jinping as he
arrived for the opening session of China's National
People's Congress, March 2021 | Andy Wong/AP

Xi Jinping became president of China in 2013, launching what will be seen as a new era in the nation’s steady climb to first rank of nations and securing himself a near-cult status frequently compared to that of the founder of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong.

Most of Xi’s work has been within his country. The West finally took notice as China began to assert power in Asia and beyond. But Xi and his allies have been working for years to prepare for this moment. Communist Party leadership was shaken by the rapid collapse of the USSR in 1991. One of his initial actions was ensuring the party’s discipline, loyalty and involvement in all aspects of the rapidly growing economy.

Strengthening the military was important in protecting national unity, securing Xi’s position and preparing for the projecting of power. His adoption of a corruption campaign was no doubt needed, given the amount of party and government corruption and the public’s view of its prevalence. But, it was also useful for removing rivals. Most recently in Hong Kong, a patriotism test is used to screen local legislative candidates. Xi and the party have dramatically increased censorship and are using new technology to surveil the internet and all manners of transactions and movement.

In 2018 and 2019 party meetings and national Congress, Xi made explicit his national dominance by eliminating the expectations of term limits and the public perception of collective leadership. Xi’s “thoughts” on socialism with Chinese characteristics were embedded into the constitution, making clear his undisputed leadership. Only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have had similar treatment of their political doctrines.

Receiving the most notice is China’s assertion of foreign policy and military power, not only off its coast, but as far as the Middle East, Africa and Latin America – in fact, globally. China is now and intends to continue to exercise world influence, especially to secure its economy, and because it saw a clear opportunity from a dearth of leadership in the U.S. and Britain in the Trump-Brexit period. After years of a philosophy of low-key accumulation of power (Deng 1990: “hide your strength, bide your time”), China under Xi is reaching for control of its core interests – Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and significant influence globally. But the effort has costs, and China is finally receiving pushback, with the U.S. in the forefront.

Monday, April 12, 2021

How Our European Allies View America

What do our European allies think of America today – and did the 2020 election change their views? For better or for worse? Some allies have openly worried whether they could trust a country that elected Trump in 2016, even if he left office. The photo above is from the turbulent G7 Summit in Canada in 2018.

A program hosted by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research will present a first review of international public opinion before and after the 2020 election and discuss the implications for American foreign policy in the future.

The program is part of Crossley Center’s series of public opinion research and commentary on major issues of American domestic and foreign policy for the University of Denver community and public.


Join us on Zoom

April 21, 2021
11:00 am MT