Biden presidency and Asia
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 9, 2020 - 12:00am

This nation’s attention is now focused on issues as the pandemic, economic recovery, anti-terror law and the urgent tasks of restoring the livelihood of millions who lost their jobs during the quarantine.

When we talk of the future, the discussions are centered on the next elections, the “new normal,” the future of democracy in this country. Almost everyone, including the masses, is aware of external forces playing significant roles in shaping our country’s economic and political affairs. Most people will point to China as the external force with the most influence in this nation’s future.

There is, however, another country that can play a major role in reshaping not just Asia but the whole world. This is the US. Under the Trump presidency, it has abandoned its traditional role as a leader in world affairs. It has antagonized even its closest allies and failed to strengthen alliances that could assert itself in the face of Chinese and Russian aggression. It has also failed its role of providing possible ideological alternatives to populism and authoritarianism. In fact Trump seems to favor dictators and semi-dictators over democratic leaders whom he has personally insulted.

There is now a very large possibility that Joe Biden could defeat Trump in the November elections and become the next president. A recent article said that the Economist election forecasting model gives Trump a one in nine chance of winning. All the recent polls, including Fox News, a rabid Trump supporter, have Biden leading by an average of nine points. In the swing states, like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Biden is also leading. These were the states where Trump won over Clinton by narrow margins and won him the presidency. The big question now for Asian geopolitical observers is: what would the US Asia policy be like under a Biden administration? There are several speeches and articles as a basis to forecast this intriguing and critical question for us here in the Philippines.

Biden is not new to US foreign policy in general and even Asia in particular. When he was Senator, he was a longtime member of the Senate foreign relations committee. As vice-president, he was part of the team that implemented the “pivot to Asia” policy .

In the Asia Pacific region, major American allies such as Australia, India and Japan share US concerns on an increasingly aggressive China. However, Trump’s America First policies have increased skepticism about American leadership. There is a feeling that Trump’s preoccupation with his reelection and the pandemic in the US is proving  to be a distraction for the US. The recent Chinese aggressiveness in Hong Kong, India and threats against Taiwan have been interpreted as taking advantage of America’s many domestic distractions. But all these will end with the election. If Trump wins it will be more of the same. However, if Biden wins, observers believe there will be major changes in US domestic and foreign policies.

Biden has actually framed his views on Asia in a few articles including a recent one in Foreign Affairs magazine where he outlined his vision. It is one anchored on the middle class and US democracy and leadership that would boost US competitiveness, manage the North Korea challenge in concert with allies, and advance a free but fair trade policy. Biden would probably go back to the “pivot to Asia” policy of the Obama years. Dr. Prashanth Parameswaran, a fellow at the Wilson Center, offers an analysis, shared by other observers, on some significant changes in Asian policy under a Biden presidency:

“With the restoration of a more conventional US administration, Washington would revert back to a more traditional level of commitment to multilateral institutions such as the United  Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“This would be welcome in the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), where Trump’s poor attendance record at ASEAN-related meetings has undermined bureaucratic inroads being made.

“Democracy and human rights would be elevated to a greater level.

“Indeed, the Biden campaign has proposed measures such as the convening of a Democracies Summit and advancing policy in areas like the rise of digital authoritarianism, which refers to the way governments may seek to control their populations through digital  technology.

“But while there would be greater alignment with Asian allies such as South Korea, countries with rights issues in South and Southeast Asia such as India or the Philippines could find themselves under scrutiny by the US.

“Economics and trade would be another area of change. While the state of the US economy will continue to make re-entry into trade pacts like the former Trans-Pacific Partnership difficult, Biden’s administration would tone down Trump’s protectionism and be creative about leveraging US economic statecraft internationally.”

Biden has had some very aggressive rhetoric when it comes to China. In a primary debate last Feb. 25, Biden blasted Xi Jinping as a “thug” who has “a million Uighurs in reconstruction camps, meaning concentration camps.” Regarding Xi’s handling of the Hong Kong protests, he also said, “This is a guy [Xi] who doesn’t have a democratic, with a small D, bone in his body.”

In a recent New York Times interview, Joe Biden declared: “When I am president, human rights will be the core of US foreign policy.”

The most obvious conclusion is that a Biden presidency in terms of its Asian foreign policy will be very different from Trump.

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