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What Does a Biden Presidency Mean for Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asian governments have generally not been very impressed by the Trump administration’s lack of commitment.

Olivier Languepin

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A Biden presidency will not erase overnight the past four years, and the deepening embedded populism in the United States, but Biden’s desire to heal the dysfunctional administration of his predecessor could introduce more coherence and fewer contradictions in the US diplomacy.

Unlike Trump, Biden will benefit from his long experience in diplomacy with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as vice president.

Southeast Asian governments have generally not been very impressed by the Trump administration’s lack of commitment, to say the least.

Especially in Thailand, where the zig-zagging decision-making of the Trump era has led to a long-lasting honeymoon with China.

A less volatile US–China relationship

A less volatile US–China relationship will impact the wider Indo-Pacific strategy, and promote a strengthening of US alliances and partnerships in the region.

Although the Southeast Asia region is generally seen as a vital focus of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, key diplomatic posts in the region have gone unfilled under the Trump administration.

Biden is likely to fill the gaps left opened in the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy by the Trump administration, putting emphasis on a more robust economic underpinning, with the obvious pending question of whether the U.S would re-join the TPP.

Under Trump administration the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has expanded under Tokyo’s leadership, but the Chinese dominated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has also gained momentum.

Biden’s senior advisor Anthony Blinken has promised, “President Biden will show up and engage ASEAN on critical issues.”

The Biden administration will also likely work more closely with the European Union, Japan and Australia to press China on addressing trade grievances with the World Trade Organization.

While a revival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is unlikely, we can expect a Biden administration to do more to meet China’s challenge in the area where it is most serious: economics.

THE DIPLOMAT

That being said, a Biden administration will probably not move the needle dramatically, or reverse the tough standing course of the previous administration on China.

Bipartisan agreement in Washington to counter China’s increasingly coercive activity throughout the Indo-Pacific region also made clear that the U.S. will not stop pushing back against Beijing under the new Democrat administration.

However the Trump administration’s containing of China promoted in ideological terms, as a global battle for freedom against authoritarianism, will likely be less rhetorical under the new administration compared to the Trump years.

Bangkok Correspondent for Siam News Network. Editor at Thailand Business News

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