Following a tight race in the state of Pennsylvania, former Vice-President Joe Biden was able to secure the remaining electoral votes needed to defeat President Donald Trump and become the 46th President of the United States. Winning both the electoral college and the overall popular vote, he is expected to become the first presidential candidate in US history to receive more than 75 million votes. Together with his running mate Kamala Harris, the first woman to earn the title of US vice-president, Biden now has the opportunity to reverse the controversial policies that were introduced by the Trump administration and restore “dignified leadership” at home and on the world stage.
While Biden may have to face the challenges of a divided Congress to pursue his domestic policy goals, he will have more control in shaping the country’s foreign policy. In turn, this could serve as his cornerstone for moving forward in the realm of international politics. Under his leadership, the US is expected to shift from Trump’s “America First” approach to a US policy that recognizes and considers the importance of alliances and multilateral cooperation.
During the campaign, Biden promised to take immediate steps to counter the rising authoritarianism in the world by reinvigorating US democracy and strengthening the coalition of democratic states. He also pledged to rejoin a number of initiatives that were shelved by the Trump administration including the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The direction of Biden’s foreign policy reflects his commitment to restore the country’s global reputation and re-engage with many of its allies, including NATO and the European Union. In the Indo-Pacific, however, the Biden administration faces familiar roadblocks, including China’s aggressive expansionism and the region’s sharp democratic decline, to advance shared values and promote cooperation among like-minded states.
The ongoing strategic competition between the US and China, along with Trump’s erratic foreign policy initiatives, have resulted in both risks and opportunities for the Indo-Pacific. As China continues to expand its role and reduce US presence in the region, nations including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have struggled to locate and balance themselves between the two contending superpowers.
Given the circumstances, Biden is projected to prioritize regional interests and set forward an updated version of President Obama’s policy of strategic rebalancing. According to his foreign policy advisor Anthony Blinken, the former vice-president is planning to actively engage the Indo-Pacific on critical issues and reassert US leadership through diplomacy. Although it would not erase the Trump administration’s four turbulent years, Biden’s return to globalism would be beneficial for the region, especially for countries that were sidelined by the inward-looking policy of the US.
In terms of approaching the China challenge, the established bipartisan consensus that China is a strategic competitor will most likely remain under the new administration. Biden portends to go beyond the US versus China narrative and implement a more consistent China policy by strengthening partnerships in the region and expanding its informal security network, including the Quad.
Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan, two of Biden’s top advisors, also said that the US leader is planning to craft a competitive coexistence framework that would be based on four key domains: economic, political, military, and global governance. Although both countries have an opportunity to stabilize their relationship under Biden’s administration, the country’s tough stance against China is not going to change any time soon.
Notwithstanding, Biden’s victory in the 2020 US presidential elections could benefit the Indo-Pacific in the long run. However, middle-power countries should realize that although the US presence in the region is essential to ensure peace and stability, the Indo-Pacific’s future should not be dictated by or charted under a unipolar hegemony. As the US-China competition continues to intensify, there is a crucial need for countries such as Japan, Australia, and India to step up and build a network of like-minded states in order to protect and sustain an open and multipolar Indo-Pacific region.
By utilizing multilateral institutions and giving importance to the role of middle powers, the Indo-Pacific acquires that vantage point in having a better chance to address emergent issues and threats in the promotion of a rules-based international order.
Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the President of Stratbase ADR Institute.