Clinton made the remarks while attending virtually the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also involved in a separate discussion about the economy the following day.
Bill Clinton was in conversation with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who asked whether Biden’s win meant that a shift in U.S. foreign policy back toward the traditional transatlantic alliance was likely.
“One of the things that I thought all the way through this pandemic is, we think back to the time where you and I were in power, and indeed when President [George W.] Bush was in power and I was in office, there would’ve been a constant dialog on what we could do together, how we handled it, what was the right strategy,” Blair said.
“There would’ve been a sense of America and the European side sticking together,” said the former U.K. head of state, who began his first term in Downing Street in 1997 shortly after Clinton was re-elected to the White House.
The former president spoke disapprovingly of Trump’s failure to concede the election, and what implications that would have on Biden’s transition into the Oval Office.
“I agree with that,” Clinton said. “Look, I don’t want to say too much right now because over on our side of the Atlantic, the current government in America is blocking a normal transition.”
“It’s slowed down the ability of the president-elect and his team, basically, to announce a whole slew of projects because they need to get in there to see what facts they need to see, and do basic things,” he added.
While deciding not to speculate on the nature of the outward policies the new administration would favor, the former president had high praise for Biden’s multilateral and cooperative approach to building relationships.
“If you look at the life that Joe Biden lived,” he said, “it’s clear that he’s going to be more oriented toward working with and through a lot of these international organizations, and that he believes in NATO and he believes in strengthening all this.”
Citing Biden’s promise to rejoin the Paris Agreement and reverse Trump’s decision to withdraw from the WHO, Clinton said the former vice president will “put American back in the business of working with other countries.”
“I think it’s a good thing that Joe Biden is not a kid,” he noted, explaining: “I think it’s a good thing that he’s much older—a generation older—than we were when we took office, because we need now a sense of husbanding our time and devoting it to the major challenges of the moment.”
Clinton described Biden’s age as a “psychological advantage.”
The two former heads of state also spoke at length about how best to work with China and Xi Jinping, who has abolished the presidential term limit, effectively allowing him to stay in power indefinitely.
“For the new administration in the U.S., I think the big challenge with China is to get what I would call a strategic framework for dealing with China, rather than a series of ad hoc reactions to whatever the Chinese may be doing,” Prime Minister Blair argued.
“The power of China today is a fact,” he added. “China is and should be one of the great powers of the world for the 21st century.”
Blair said he had hoped and personally expected a “political evolution” in China toward more liberalism as the country continued to develop and join the global economy. The current Chinese political system meant that could not be the case, he argued.
The former PM disagreed with analogies likening the West’s current relationship with China to the Cold War, but admitted that decoupling would be “painful for both of us.”
“But you’ve got to say in the last few years, there’s been more external aggression and more internal repression. That’s just a fact. That’s what we’re dealing with now,” he added.
“The old Chinese system, which was by no means a democracy, still guaranteed enough debate, and play and openness because there was a regular rotation of leadership,” Clinton responded. “Now that it appears that a person is in charge of China who intends to stay there for life, in essence, that changes things.”
“But we shouldn’t accept or assume that it’s all going to be bad without working to make it better,” he said, adding that the new administration should be given a chance to try its own approach.
On dealing with Indo-Pacific challenges such as China, Clinton said the Biden administration could seek to re-establish ties with principal partners in Asia and Southeast Asia, such as those involved in the now-scrapped Trans-Pacific Partnership that Donald Trump “killed.”
During his campaign, the president-elect voiced a desire to form a coalition of democracies in order to counter Beijing’s regional influence.
At the same forum Monday, however, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, who served under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, suggested that forming such an alliance for the sake of targeting China was a mistake.
The U.S. under Trump has been at loggerheads with China over issues such as trade and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic. Beijing’s heavy-handed tactics against pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong, as well as the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, have both been consistent points of criticism raised by outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Despite not wishing to involve the U.S. in any new military conflicts, Clinton said: “We can’t walk away from manifest, urgent, immediate human suffering we have a chance to alleviate, so there is still going to be a lot of hard decisions to make. These hard decisions won’t go away”
Secretary Hillary Clinton, who was among a panel discussing the economy on Tuesday, spoke from the same desk used by the former president the day before.
She told Bloomberg’s Caroline Hyde that Trump’s unemployment stimulus was “not sufficient,” and that she expected the Biden-Harris administration to shift its focus to helping small and medium businesses survive the economic slump caused by COVID-19.
Failure to address the downturn would bring “economic and political consequences” from an “already shaky market system,” she predicted.
The former secretary of state said she believed Biden would come forward with a comprehensive relief package for workers and especially small and medium-sized enterprises if the lame-duck session in Congress fails to agree on a COVID bill.