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U.S. foreign policy under a Biden administration: A return to normalcy?

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With a Biden electoral win, many expect a return to orthodox American engagement with Asia. However, a granular look at election results provides a more sobering assessment of U.S. global commitment beyond the Biden administration. U.S. allies and partners in Asia should be clear-eyed that there will be no reset.

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The 2020 U.S. presidential election did not end with a straightforward result. Instead, the delay in ballots counting in battleground states and President Donald Trump’s legal threats to challenge the result complicated the usually smooth power transition. Nonetheless, President-elect Biden has already begun setting the tone for his Presidency through the formation of a COVID-19 task force and the vetting of potential Cabinet members.

A Biden’s win provided a sigh of relief for U.S. allies and partners around the world after an unprecedented period in U.S. foreign policy, which saw President Trump walked away from international agreements, weakened the American system of alliances, and generally pushed a more unilateral approach over a range of issues from trade disputes to China. Most expected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will guide the U.S. back to multilateralism, pursue a more consistent strategy towards Asia and work more closely with allies and partners.

These predictions are accurate. However, the risk here is U.S. allies and partners in Asia might expect orthodox foreign policy. In the background of Trump’s chaotic and unpredictable approach, regional powers such as Japan and Australia stepped up their engagement with the region, spearheaded new interpretations of the Indo-Pacific concepts, and persuaded the U.S. to engage with the region in a coherent manner. An American return to multilateralism and close cooperation with allies and partners might pose a risk of persuading regional countries to lessen their engagement. 

A granular look at the election results provided a sobering assessment of U.S. engagement in the region. The close results in popular votes, in which 47% of American voters chose the incumbent President, showed that Trumpism remains a powerful force in American society and the Republican Party. Furthermore, Biden will face political gridlock from U.S. Congress, with the House under the Democrat control while the Republican Party might retain its grip on the Senate. This power-sharing arrangement might complicate Biden’s efforts to reach a bipartisan consensus on a host of issues, from affordable healthcare to clean economy, might become a subject of opposition from the Republican party. However, Biden might find a way out of political gridlock to push for his agenda. With his experiences working within the legislative and the government and his reputation as a centrist politician, Biden and his team might be able to forge consensus in issues that receive bipartisan support, such as investment in infrastructure and strategies towards a more assertive China.

This point is critical to American foreign policy and its global commitment. The U.S. needs to get its own house in order before it can engage more meaningfully with the region and to compete more effectively with China. Biden himself already underlined this point in a Foreign Affairs essay outlining his policy agenda: “As a nation, we have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again – not just with the example of our power but also with the power of our example.” Unsurprisingly, Biden believes that renewing American democracy and developing a middle class-friendly foreign policy are the centerpieces of his agenda, “Build Back Better.”

Furthermore, the profound economic, social, and political polarization exposed by the election results has its roots in vast economic inequalities between the educated and the rest that spilled into economic resentment, cultural and political volatility. Diminishing polarization and inequality to tangible levels will naturally consume a considerable share of time and resources from the Biden administration. What we should be worried about is not whether Biden will be tough to China, but, as Tom McTague eloquently put, whether the American public continues to shoulder the burden of American regional and global commitments? And for how long?

Trump’s disdain for multilateralism and his unnecessary fights with allies over burden-sharing and trade disputes naturally stoked fears among regional countries over U.S. commitments. The region faces multiple security challenges from the shift in balance of power, triggered by China’s rising influence and strategic assertiveness in its neighborhood. Furthermore, non-traditional security challenges such as climate change, terrorism, trafficking, and piracy continue to threaten regional development and prosperity. The prospect of not being able to rely on U.S. global presence drove U.S. allies and partners towards greater engagement to maintain the rules-based order and regional security architecture.

A clear example of this shift is Japan. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Japan found ways to actively engage with the region under the auspice of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Emphasizing three pillars, which are: rule-of-law, economic prosperity, and commitment to peace and stability, Japan spearheaded multiple initiatives, from enhancing regional connectivity through quality infrastructure development, promotion of free trade through multilateral agreements to strengthening maritime security through capacity-building. Australia, another trusted ally of the U.S., is also having a “strategic revolution.” Australia’s 2020 Defense Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan signify this fundamental shift, where Australia not only acknowledges its security environment has deteriorated but also commits significant investment to enhance deterrent capabilities. Furthermore, Australia also works with the U.S., Japan and India within the framework of the revived Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad), in infrastructure development (the Blue Dot Network), and in strengthening supply chains’ resilience after the COVID-19 shocks.

A Biden win, therefore, could spur three different scenarios. The first scenario will see U.S. allies and partners’ attempt towards greater engagement and coordination slowly fades upon the hope that Biden will reorient American foreign policy back to its traditional posture. This is not a wise move for the reasons mentioned above. In the second scenario, the greater engagement, whose fundamentals were laid out under the Trump administration, will be reinvigorated even further now that we have a new U.S. leadership that believes in cooperation and multilateralism but still face certain domestic obstacles. In the most optimistic but less likely case, in which the U.S. goes through a V-shaped recovery by controlling the pandemic, the economic tailwind and domestic support will encourage Biden to pursue an even more proactive foreign policy that focuses on the Indo-Pacific, a rational approach to China and strengthen allies and partners.

Whether Biden can achieve this outcome remains an open question. Therefore, for U.S. allies and partners, sustained engagement is not only an effective solution for the current situation but also a long-term strategy for a new era of uncertainty and great power competition.

Hanh Nguyen received her M.A. in International Relations at International Christian University, Tokyo. Her research interest includes Vietnam's foreign policy and US-China relations. She was a fellow under the Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS). She has written for the Pacific Forum, The Diplomat, 9DashLine, Geopolitical Monitor and the East Asia Security Centre.

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Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy

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Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.

In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”

That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.

Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.

The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.

In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”

As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.

Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.

Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.

The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.

Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.

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Deliberate efforts were made to give a tough time to President Joe Biden

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Image credit: Todd Jacobucci/ flickr

President Trump-Administration is over-engaged in creating mess for in-coming President Joe Biden. The recent deliberate efforts are made to give a tough time are:  naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Terming Iran as a new home to al-Qaida, and lifting restrictions on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan.

The consequence may turn into dire situations, like a return to cold war era tension. Efforts were made to resume Cuba-US relations to normal for decades and were expected to sustain a peaceful co-existence. Any setback to relations with Cuba may destabilize the whole region. Pompeo’s redesignation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terror will possibly have the least material impact, but it signifies a personal loss to Biden and a momentous political win for Trumpism. In doing so, Trump is hitting the final nail in the coffin of Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

Yemen issue was a creation of Arab spring sponsored by the CIA, and after realizing the wrongdoings, the US was trying to cool down the tension between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but with the recent move to name Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, may open new hostilities and bloodshed. It has been designated by UNICEF as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people — some 80 percent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.” Such statements may halt humanitarian assistance and may result in a big disaster.

The history of rivalries with Iran goes back to 1953 when the UK and the US jointly overthrew the legitimate government of Prime Minister Mossadeq. But the real tension heightened in 2018 When President Trump withdrew from JCPOA. But the recent allegation that Iran as a new home of al-Qaida may take a new turn and give a tough time to Joe Biden–Administration. Although there is no evidence, however, Secretary of State Pompeo made such an allegation out of his personal grudge against Iran. It can complicate the situation further deteriorate and even may engulf the whole middle-east.

Lifting constraints on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan, is open violation of “One-China Policy.” Since Washington established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it has resisted having official diplomatic associations with Taipei in order to avoid a confrontation with the PR China, which still comprehends the island — home to around 24 million people — as part of China. Chinese are very sensitive to the Taiwan issue and struggling for peaceful unification. However, China posses the capabilities to take over by force, yet, have not done so far. Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo’s statement may be aiming to instigate China and forcing toward military re-unification. It might leave a challenging concern for Joe Biden-Administration.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, “The Trump administration is locking in place a series of conflicts that change the starting point for Biden walking into the office on the world stage.”

Even Mr. Pompeo had a plan to travel to Europe to create further hurdles for in-coming administration, but fortunately, some of the European countries refused to entertain him, and desperately he has to cancel his trip at the eleventh hours.

It is just like a losing army, which destroys all ammunition, weapons, bridges, infrastructures, etc., before surrendering. Although President Trump’s days in office are numbered, his administration is over-engaged in destruction and creating hurdles for the next administration. He is deliberately creating hurdles and difficulties for President-Elect Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden has many challenges to face like Pandemic, unrest in the society, a falling economy, losing reputation, etc. Some of them might be natural, but few are specially created!

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Latin America and the challenges for true political and economic independence

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Latin America – and its core countries, namely Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – has become a region of high global strategic value due to its vast territory, abundant resources, great economic development, unique geographical position and active role in global and regional governance.

Factors such as history, geography and reality, combined with the complexity of the region’s internal political logics, have once again made Latin America a place where major powers pay attention to and play key games.

Latin America’s cooperation with ‘external’ powers has become ever closer, leading to unfounded suspicions and malicious provocations among the countries of the region concerned.

What bothers ‘democrats’ and ‘liberals’ is the presence in the area of countries without a colonialist and exploitative past.

Historically, Latin America and the Caribbean were the coveted location of various Western forces. Since the Latin American countries’ independence – and even today – large countries inside and outside the region have competed in this area.

The complexity and uncertainty of the current global political and economic situation in Latin America lie behind the competition between the major powers in geopolitics and international relations.

Latin America’s vast lands and resources are linked to global food security, the supply of agricultural and livestock products, and energy security. It is an important ‘product supplier’ that cannot be neglected.

Latin America has a huge surface of over 20 million square kilometres, covering four sub-regions of North America (Mexico), the Caribbean, Central America and South America, with 33 independent countries and some regions that are not yet independent, as they are tied to the burden of the old liberal-colonialist world.

Latin America is blessed with favourable natural conditions. For example, it has become a well-known ‘granary’ and ‘meat provider’ because of its fertile arable land and abundant pastures. It is an important area  for the production of further agricultural and livestock products. At the same time, other countries in the region have huge reserves of natural resources such as oil and gas, iron ore, copper and forests, and have become important global suppliers of strategic materials.

Secondly, the Latin American region has a relatively high level of economic development and has brought together a number of important emerging economies – a significant global market that cannot be ignored.

The Latin American region plays an important role in global economy. Brazil and Mexico are not only the two largest economies in Latin America, but also the top 15 in global economy.

At the same time, recent calculations on 183 countries (regions) with complete data from the World Bank and related studies show that the group consisting of Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, etc., has entered the ranking of the “30 emerging markets” (E30) worldwide. According to World Bank statistics, Latin America’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018 was about 5.78 trillion dollars and the per capita GDP exceeded 9,000 dollars. With the exception of a few, most countries in Latin America are middle-income and some have entered the high-income ranking.

Therefore, Latin America has become a large consumer market that cannot be ignored due to its relatively high level of economic development, high per capita income and a population of over 640 million people.

Indeed, as Latin American region with a high degree of economic freedom and trade openness, it has been closely connected with the economies of other regions in the world through various bilateral and multilateral agreements, initiatives and free trade mechanisms.

Thirdly, Latin America’s unique geographical position has a significant impact on global trade, shipping and climate change.

Latin America is situated between two oceans. Some countries border on the Pacific, or the Atlantic, or are even bathed by both oceans. This special position gives the Latin American region the geographical advantage of achieving ‘transpacific cooperation’ with the Asian region or building a link of ‘transatlantic cooperation’ with the European region. Thanks to the Panama Canal, it is the fundamental hub for global trade.

Besides its strategic relevance for food security and clean energy production, the Amazon rainforest, known as the ‘lungs of the earth’, has a surface of over six million square kilometres, accounting for about 50% of the global rainforest. 20% of the global forest area and the vast resources covering 9 countries in Latin America have become one of the most important factors influencing global climate change.

Finally, as an active player in the international and regional political and economic arena, Latin America is a new decisive force that cannot be neglected in the field of global and regional governance.

Firstly, as members of organisations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the major Latin American countries are both participants in and creators of international rules.

Moreover, these countries should be considered from further aspects and viewpoints of multilateralism.

The major Latin American countries, particularly regional powers, such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, are members of the G20. Brazil belongs to both BRICS and BASIC.Mexico, Chile and Peru are within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Mexico, Peru and Chile are members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), while Mexico and Chile are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

They are playing an irreplaceable role in responding to the economic crisis and promoting the reform of global governance mechanisms; in promoting the conclusion of important agreements on global climate change; in advancing economic cooperation between the various regions; in leading ‘South-South cooperation’ between developing countries and in holding a dialogue on the main current issues (opposition to unilateralism, protectionism, protection of multilateralism, etc.).

It must also be said that Latin American countries are naturally also active in regional organisations and institutions – such as the Organisation of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, etc. – so that they can participate directly and try to oppose U.S. hegemonism.

Within the Latin American region, these countries first initiated a process of cooperation and integration and later established various sub-regional organisations -such as Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur-Mercado Comum do Sul) and Alianza del Pacífico (Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru) – to cooperate with other regions of the world and shake off the unfortunate definition of “America’s backyard”.

Located in the Western Hemisphere, where the well-known superpower is present, Latin American countries have long been deeply influenced by the United States in politics, economics, society and culture.

In 1823, the United States supported the Monroe Doctrine and drove the European countries out of Latin America with the slogan ‘America for the Americans’, thus becoming the masters of the Western Hemisphere.

The Monroe Doctrine also became a pretext for the United States to interfere in the internal affairs and diplomacy of Latin American countries.

In 2013, 190 years after the aforementioned declaration, the United States publicly declared that the Monroe Doctrine era was over and emphasised the relationship on an equal footing and the shared responsibility between the United States and Latin America.

Nevertheless, the current Latin American politics shows once again that the end of the so-called ‘Monroe Doctrine’ era is nothing more than a common myth.

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