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Biden quick to reverse Trump decisions

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-21 12:36
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Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington, US, on Jan 20, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Newly sworn-in United States President Joe Biden moved swiftly on his first day in the White House to roll back major policy decisions made by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Just hours after his inauguration at noon on Wednesday, Biden signed executive orders to begin the process of returning the US to the Paris agreement on climate change, which the Trump administration left in November.

He also acted to reverse the process of the country leaving the World Health Organization, which is coordinating the global fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a congratulatory message to Biden, Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said China would cooperate with the US in dealing with pressing challenges facing the world.

"China looks forward to working with the new administration to promote sound and steady development of China-US relations and jointly address global challenges in public health, climate change and growth," Cui tweeted on Wednesday.

Biden's decisions on the Paris agreement and the WHO, which followed a pledge in his inaugural address to "engage with the world again", have fueled hope for renewed international cooperation in the fight against global warming and the pandemic.

"A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can't be any more desperate or any more clear now," Biden said in his inauguration remarks, listing "a climate in crisis" and "a raging virus" as the major challenges for the country.

Former Colombian president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos said Biden "understands the value and the importance of multilateralism. He understands the importance of cooperation among nations."

"If we don't cooperate-all nations-to fight climate change, then we will all perish. It's as simple as that," Santos was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Biden, who was vice-president during the Obama administration which signed the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, campaigned on tackling what he called "the existential threat".

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington, US, on Jan 20, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

While Trump cited concerns about the agreement's risk to the US economy when he announced the withdrawal soon after taking office in 2017, Biden told voters climate efforts add to the number of well-paid jobs and boost the economy.

"We are going to combat climate change in a way we have not done so far," he said on Wednesday, before signing the executive order, one of a flurry of actions taken to reverse Trump administration policies.

In an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine in April, Biden said he planned to "make massive, urgent investments at home that put the United States on track to have a clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050."

He also vowed to rally nations to "raise their ambitions and push progress further and faster".

Rachel Cleetus, climate and energy policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the new US administration's swift action to rejoin the Paris agreement would be the first step to bring the country back into the fold of the global community after four years of being isolated and on the sidelines.

Cleetus suggested in a statement that Biden and his international climate envoy, John Kerry, hold bilateral and multilateral discussions with other major emitting countries to solidify ways to collectively tackle the climate crisis head on.

Kerry has already said he expects to work with China on climate change.

"They (China) were a partner on climate as we competed with them at other things during the Obama administration," Kerry said in an interview with National Public Radio last month when asked if he could collaborate with China on climate issues as the two countries compete on others.

"We've been there, done that. But if we don't work as a primary extraordinary effort on climate, we're all cooked," the former US secretary of state said.

The actions Biden signed on Wednesday also included an order to establish a new White House office coordinating response to the pandemic and ending the process of withdrawing from the WHO.

As of Wednesday, more than 405,000 people had died from COVID-19 in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement, "I warmly welcome President Biden's steps to re-enter the Paris agreement on climate change and join the growing coalition of governments, cities, states, businesses and people taking ambitious action to confront the climate crisis."

Guterres said he believed this action was "absolutely critical" for a better coordinated global response to COVID-19.

The Washington State China Relations Council said it was pleased to see that the US would return to the Paris agreement, and hoped the new administration would work with international partners, including China, to address climate change and the spread of COVID-19, among other issues.

"We also hope that President Biden's team will lend its support to global institutions which have endured limited American attention over the past four years," the organization said in a statement.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, "With vaccines being a critical tool in the battle against COVID-19, the United States joining and supporting the COVAX facility will give momentum to efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries."

According to US media reports, the Biden administration intends to join the COVAX alliance, a global initiative launched by the WHO to ensure equitable worldwide access to COVID-19 vaccines.

China joined the initiative in October.

John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution, has said Washington and Beijing could work together to step up inoculations worldwide against the disease and to cope with climate change.

"Here is an opportunity for the United States and China to exert leadership with our partners to find a way forward to vaccinate the planet and then to create a system of global medical surveillance that will preclude this from happening again," Allen said in a podcast aired on Jan 4, after listing vaccine development in both countries.

Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings John L. Thornton China Center, noted that the joining of the US and China in the COVAX alliance could provide "a more frictionless" platform to coordinate contributions to global efforts to deliver more than 11 billion vaccine treatments to people on every continent than if they attempted to replicate COVAX's efforts on a bilateral basis.

Professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California, Eric J. Heikkila, said that while Biden's message was addressed primarily to "his Americans", he also spoke to "those beyond our borders", pledging to be "a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security".

"This will no doubt create an opportunity for improved relations between China and the US, provided that China responds in a similar spirit," Heikkila said.

"In some policy domains, such as climate change or even pandemic response, this should be doable," he added.

Liu Yinmeng in Los Angeles and Linda Deng in Seattle contributed to this story.

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