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What Are Trump, Biden Saying about US Foreign Policy?

What Are Trump, Biden Saying about US Foreign Policy?
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American President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have sharply different ideas about United States foreign policy.

In 2016, Trump won the presidency calling for “America First” and then quickly withdrew the U.S. from several international agreements. Biden has said that as president he would welcome a return to international cooperation.

Here are some of the major areas the two U.S. presidential candidates have discussed during the campaign.


Trump has demanded that members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, increase their defense spending. Before Trump took office, some NATO members were meeting the spending target set in 2014, but many were not.

Earlier this year, Trump criticized Germany for not spending enough on defense. He announced that the U.S. would withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany. The withdrawal, however, will take months of planning and years to execute.

During the presidential campaign, Biden called NATO “the single most consequential alliance in the history of the United States.” He warned it “will fall apart” if Trump wins re-election. The former vice president has said he wants to make good relations with international partnerships important.


Trump’s China policy has changed through his presidency. Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting in the first months of his administration. However, relations moved to a trade war with both placing tariffs on each other’s imported goods. Later, the two countries reached the first phase of a trade agreement with China’s promise to buy more American products.

As the coronavirus health crisis grew in 2020, Trump has strongly criticized China, where the virus started its worldwide spread. Trump also has moved to ban popular China-based computer applications TikTok and WeChat. The administration says they are a security threat.

Biden has called for more attention on human rights issues in China and the situation in Hong Kong. He also has supported keeping pressure on China for its trade methods.

Biden’s campaign claimed that the Trump administration “lost that trade war” against China. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris said, “Farmers have experienced bankruptcy, because of it. We are in a manufacturing recession, because of it.” But Vice President Mike Pence said, “Trump has stood up to China and will continue to stand strong.”


Biden has said he would question Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and other activities. Some of the activities, Biden said, include reported Russian money in exchange for killing American troops and efforts to weaken the NATO alliance.

“I don't understand why this president is unwilling to take on Putin…,” Biden said.

Trump has dismissed U.S. intelligence’s judgement that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. He pointed to U.S. sanctions on Russia as evidence of his administration’s strength.

“There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump,” the president said.


Biden was vice president when the U.S. joined five other world powers to sign the 2015 agreement that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.

Trump withdrew from the agreement, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated.” He placed new sanctions on Iran that have hurt the country’s economy. Iran has continued its push to develop its nuclear program.

Biden says he would seek to rejoin the deal.


Both candidates support a two-state solution in peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump fulfilled a campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Biden has criticized that move, but does not plan to change it. He proposes opening a U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem to engage with the Palestinians.


In Afghanistan, Trump’s administration reached an agreement with Taliban militants that calls for U.S troops to leave the country by the middle of 2021.

Biden has expressed that he wants to make changes based on conditions on the ground.

North Korea

Trump held three meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The meetings were part of an effort to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program. The talks did not result in any solid agreements.

Biden’s position is that he would not meet with Kim without preconditions. A Biden administration plan would be to use the pressure of sanctions to push Kim to negotiate.


On the issue of Africa, Biden proposes ending travel bans that Trump put in place when he first took office. The travel restrictions target several majority Muslim nations including Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia which struggle with identified terror threats. Trump defended the bans as necessary for national security.

Both candidates support a push for economic development in their plans for relations with African nations. They both propose working with Africa’s young leaders and Africans living the United States.

Central America

In Central America, Trump’s administration reached agreements in 2019 with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The agreements require migrants to first seek asylum in those countries. If they arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border without having done so, they will be sent back. Similar agreements with other nations would be a goal in a second Trump term.

Biden has criticized what he calls “immigration policies that seek to undo our asylum and refugee laws.” He said he would provide aid to Central America in an effort to pressure the governments to reduce the number of migrants traveling north.


Under the Trump administration, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. has dropped. This year it is set at 15,000. The U.S. State Department said the latest limit is necessary for the “safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

During the last year of the administration of President Barack Obama the limit was set at 85,000. Biden has promised to sharply increase the limit to 125,000.

International organizations

Trump has moved away from several international efforts and some organizations. He withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate, a plan to control rising temperatures by placing restrictions on developed countries. He also pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade deal. The president said it was a bad deal for the country. The administration has also cut financial support for the World Health Organization, WHO.

Biden supported both the Paris climate deal and the TPP during his time as vice president and would seek to rejoin them. The TPP is now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. Its biggest member is Japan. Biden also says he would go back to supporting the WHO.

I’m Ashley Thompson. And I'm Mario Ritter.

VOANEWS reported this story. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

consequential –adj. important

tariff - n. a tax on goods coming into or leaving a country

phase – n. a part or step in a process

sanctions – n. ­actions taken to force a country to obey international laws by limiting trade with that country or cutting off aid

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