11/09/2020, 13.27
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Biden presidency: no change in sight for US policy in Asia

by Emanuele Scimia

Containing China remains the chief objective along with the North Korea conundrum and maintaining the status quo in Taiwan. Re-entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership possible. Pledge to restore the Iran nuclear deal and balance relations with Israel and the Palestinians.

Rome (AsiaNews) - US foreign policy in Asia is not set to undergo dramatic changes with the election of Joe Biden as president. Analysts and experts predict that the new tenant of the White House will change the form rather than the substance of these policies, favoring a more multilateral approach. By and large, Washington's underlying goal will remain the same as Donald Trump: to contain the growth of Chinese power and limit its involvement in the Middle East. Below is a review of the main challenges facing the new president of the United States.

China should welcome Donald Trump's defeat in the recent US presidential but for several observers this is not the case. Since taking office in 2017, the current White House tenant has pressed Beijing on many fronts: trade, human rights, new technologies and security in the South China Sea and across the Taiwan Strait.

In the US Congress there is bi-partisan agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the need to counter the rise of the Asian giant; on this premise, in the eyes of the Chinese leadership, Joe Biden's declared intent to mend relations with allies in Asia risks strengthening Washington's position in the Western Pacific.

Relations between the US and India are unlikely to change under the new administration. There was a certain harmony between Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist. However, the need to counter the "Chinese threat" in the Indo-Pacific area will push Delhi and Washington to strengthen strategic cooperation, also with the contribution of Japan and Australia. The Indian origin of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris – who was congratulated by Modi - could help further cement closer links between the two sides.

It is highly probable that North Korea would have preferred a new Trump term. The "historic" summits between Kim Jong-un and "The Donald" have helped ease the pressure on the North Korean regime, although they have not led to concrete results. Pyongyang has continued to develop its nuclear arsenal and Washington has neither canceled or reduced sanctions aimed at containing it. Seoul also appreciated Trump’s attempts to put an end to 70 years of conflict between North and South. With Biden, however, it will find a less rigid interlocutor on the problem of the costs linked to the presence of US troops in South Korean territory.

According to pre-election polls, the people of Taiwan wanted a second term for Trump, a wish shared by the government of Tsai Ing-wen. In congratulating Biden, the Taiwanese president stressed, however, that she does not expect a change of trajectory in relations between the two countries. Republicans and Democrats alike support the island's de facto independence from China (which considers Taipei a rebel province to be reunited with the mainland). With the new US president, fewer arms sales are expected than under the Trump administration, but more active support for Taiwan's participation in international forums.

Vietnam would also have preferred Trump's reappointment given his heavy-handed approach to China. Biden’s intention to renegotiate Washington’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a sign of his willingness to continue building an opposition front against China in Southeast Asia. The TPP was signed in 2016 by the US and 11 other countries in the Pacific region, including Vietnam. The great free trade agreement, which accounted for 40% of world trade, was seen by the Obama administration as a soft-power tool to contain Chinese growth. It was abandoned by Trump at the beginning of his term and is also a source of opposition from protectionist sectors within Biden’s Democratic Party.

Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei has declared that the result of the US elections will not change the politics of his country. President Hassan Rouhani is more likely to have welcomed Biden’s election following his promise to bring Washington back on board with the Iranian nuclear program agreement. Signed in 2015 on the initiative of the Obama administration, the JCPOA provided for the containment of Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for a relaxation of international sanctions on the Islamic Republic. A staunch critic of the agreement, Trump ordered the US withdrawal from it in May 2018 and reintroduced sanctions against the Iranians.

Israel expects changes with Biden's arrival, but not to the extent that they would cast doubt on solid relations with Washington. Trump largely followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's agenda, proposing a new peace plan for the creation of two states that penalizes the territorial demands of the Palestinians and favors those of the Israelis. Under the new administration, and a greater push from the left wing of the Democratic Party, Washington should rebalance its position.

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”