The future of Asia-Pacific in the ‘new’ American Government 2021

Joe Biden is likely to be the next president of the United States of America . It is not yet official, despite the substantial proclamation of the main global mass media, and may not be until December 14, the day when the 538 electors will gather and express in the constituency. The conditional is still a must, because the “outgoing” president Donald Trump has no intention of conceding the victory, but has indeed managed to convince the majority of the Republican Party to square around him, and his appeals.

Political priority will certainly be addressed to the internal arena, with the Coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the country and a society that has probably never been so polarized and conflictual. In foreign policy, as suggested by many observers, Biden’s main break with the Trump administration would be the “re-entry” of the United States into the world, and into the global forum of international organizations. Over the course of this last tumultuous four-year period, Trump exited the Paris Climate Agreement, UNESCO , the World Health Organization(WHO), by the United Nations Human Rights Council, has blown the Iranian nuclear deal, has definitively shelved the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) project, as well as having repeatedly criticized NATO , the WTO , and many other organizations where the United States has historically played a leadership role.

One of the main challenges for the future Biden administration will be precisely to re-enter the international concert and renew the relationship with various international partners, especially in Asia. During his tenure as vice president (2009-17), but also in the periods in which he was president of the Foreign Affairs Commission in the Senate (2001-03 and 2007-09), he created a network of resources and diplomatic ties that should facilitate the path of internationalization and restore the relationship of trust with some historical allies and Asian partners. It is therefore legitimate to wait for a strengthening of the relationship with Japan, South Korea, Australia, but no radical change on the horizon; in fact, a line of continuity is definitely more plausible, but with a marked change of tone and attitude.

The most relevant issue, of course, will remain the confrontation with China, a country with which Biden can boast a solid tradition of relations and ties, including that with Xi Jinping . Regardless of the White House tenant, China is unequivocally a strategic competitor and main geopolitical rival. But if Trump has set up an extremely conflicting strategy, often even tending to China bashing , especially in the economic and commercial field, the Biden government’s perspective could be more tending to competitive coexistence. Let me be clear, the strategy of containment and economic decoupling will probably not be abandoned but, as mentioned before, channeled into a more canonical diplomatic track.

The democratic candidate, in fact, has strongly criticized Beijing on certain issues (protection of human rights in the first place ), but has also said he is willing to cooperate on issues dear to both countries, such as the fight against climate change and security. healthcare on a global scale. Decaying the inherent unpredictability with which Trumphas managed foreign policy in the Asian continent, and with it the frontal approach to questions concerning China, it is likely that the Sino-American relationship will return to more familiar tracks, returning to a multilateral context in which Washington can delegate certain issues to its own allies. In this sense, the renewed US presence in Asia-Pacific will hardly be reviewed by Biden, but it could indeed become a springboard for expanding partnerships and networks on regional cooperation, especially against the never-dormant Chinese assertiveness. Litigation in the South China Sea, albeit at low intensity, it is more alive than ever, with China pursuing its control strategy and the United States trying to create a concert in Southeast Asia, especially between ASEAN countries , to counteract more effective at Beijing’s maritime expansionism.

Another important test is represented by North Korea, on which Trump has bet so recklessly as to risk compromising the relationship with Seoul and Tokyo. Faced with the grievances of the allies, rightly dissatisfied with the chest decisions taken by the tycoon, Trump has threatened a downsizing of the US military presence in the two countries. The meetings with Kim Jong-un basically ended with nothing, of which we remember more the media buzz than anything else. Biden, therefore, will inherit the usual stalemate, and his inauguration will most likely be greeted by the inevitable missile test.

Finally, Taiwan is one of the few companies, along with Vietnam, to greet Trump with more than one regret. In fact, Taipei has benefited enormously from the heated confrontation between Washington and Beijing, and the government of Tsai Ing-wen was able to use it to increase its international status. Just think of the current management of the pandemic, for which Taiwan has distinguished itself as one of the most virtuous realities on the international scene and has been openly praised by the American government. The very recent visits of two important institutional figures such as Alex Azar, Secretary of Health, and Keith Krach, Undersecretary of State, can only confirm the proximity between the two governments, or the visit of the Raiders, the special forces of the Marines, to the naval base of Kaohsiungfor a training course. Things will likely change with Biden, but not necessarily for the worse for the island. The passionate Trumpist closeness must be interpreted more in an anti-Beijing key than anything else, and a return to the most classic of bilateral relations could be the best solution for Taipei.

In short, there are many open fronts and many thorny situations for the elected president, who has from his great experience and a large network, professional and personal, from which to draw. We will probably no longer see a foreign policy “shouted” into the megaphone, but it would also be wrong to expect a clear change of course from one of the main architects of the Pivot to Asia.


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