What Joe Biden Means For Southeast Asia?

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Joe Biden has been elected the 46th president of the United States ending tumultuous years under Donald Trump. In an age of growing Chinese power, it is anticipating to see what the Biden administration would mean for Southeast Asia, a crucial battlefield for influence vis-à-vis China.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy towards Southeast Asia was chaotic, incoherent, and flawed. The US-China relations hit an all-time low in Trump’s administration. During Trump’s term, the relations between the US and China plummeted over various issues such as Hongkong, Coronavirus, and Xinjiang. Trump took a confrontational stance against China. The Trump administration also punished Huawei and Tiktok arguing both posed national security threats because they are from China. His other mishap was the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Biden’s administration signals some changes, marking an end to an erratic decision making of the Trump’s administration. Regarding China, he may take a tough approach giving continuity to Trump’s administration. In one debate during his campaign trail, he called Chinese President Xi Jinping ‘a thug’. One of his campaigns also says that he will lead America to win the competition for the future against China. Biden would also collectively work with the US allies to challenge China.

Biden administration would represent a more consistent narrative than Trump’s. Biden, a long-serving member of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee would revive the State Department. To conduct policy regarding Southeast Asia, Trump seemed to have a desire to micromanage from his office. Key diplomatic posts in the region were vacant and there were several political appointees. Trump’s term wasn’t motivating for Foreign Service Officers. Biden is likely to give more authority to his diplomats and officers in the region to formulate and implement the policy. This can create a balanced policy as officers have experiences and represented American values to the world.

There are some hopes that Biden’s administration will emphasize the Southeast Asian countries as his senior advisor Anthony Blinken has promised “President Biden will show up and engage ASEAN on critical issues.” There are hopes that the U.S policy will be formulated well in the region.

During Trump’s presidency, there were no consistent narratives so the regional countries were unclear where to position themselves for regional influences. For example, Vietnam, America’s closest Asian ally didn’t know whether America supports it or not during Trump’s term. During one interview with Fox News, Trump called Vietnam the ‘single worst abuser’ on trade with America. So, during Biden’s presidency, clear narratives and messages are expected for the regional allies that help to position themselves for regional influence. It is also likely that the Southeast Asian allies of the US are likely to get more support from Biden’s administration.

For Asia, whether he will be the second version of Obama or the lighter version of Trump, it is yet to be seen, but his foreign policy in the region is likely to be balanced and consistent.

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