Global Economy

World leaders face dilemma: Deal with Donald Trump or hang on for Joe Biden


WASHINGTON: America’s allies and rivals face a tough choice as Donald Trump trails in polls ahead of November’s presidential election: Wait to see if he loses to presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden, or cut deals now to avoid negotiating with an emboldened second-term Trump.

The president addressed that dilemma himself in a tweet celebrating the release of an American prisoner, Michael White, from Iran earlier this month. “Don’t wait until after US Election to make the Big deal,” Trump wrote. “I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!”

The administration wielded the same warnings when pressing the World Health Organization during the global Covid-19 pandemic for changes in order to get American funding flowing again, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The demand was the same, the person said: commit to reforms aimed at improving transparency and eradicating a perceived bias toward China, or expect to make more painful concessions if Trump is re-elected.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may already have tasted the risks of snubbing the White House. Days after she refused Trump’s invitation to a G-7 summit he wanted to hold outside Washington this month, the administration announced plans to withdraw a quarter of US troops currently stationed in Germany. Trump said he made that call because Germany still wasn’t on track to meet its commitment as a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member to spend 2% of gross domestic product on defence by 2024.

Merkel, meanwhile, attributed her refusal to come to the US to the pandemic, saying it was too early for an in-person meeting like the one Trump proposed. For the time being, countries appear to be holding off on deals with the Trump administration, or sticking to their guns in case a Biden administration softens the American stance.

South Korea, for example, is still resisting US demands to pay far more to host the 28,000 US troops stationed on the peninsula, while several European countries are vowing to move ahead with plans to tax tech companies despite a US threat to retaliate with tariffs.

“A lot of countries in Europe and Asia will hide behind Covid-19 and hit the pause button, saying it is too difficult to do business as usual,” says John Chipman, directorgeneral of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank. With the pandemic unlikely to really wind down before October, that time scale dovetails with the US election.

The Trump administration’s domestic response to the coronavirus and recent anti-racism protests may also see foreign capitals choose to wait.

Trump’s defence secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff both issued statements this month committing to protecting the US Constitution, thinly veiled rebukes to the president’s ideas of assuming federal control to impose order by force.





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