Asia News Breaking News World News Multimedia News: The Asia Live

South Asian litmus test for Biden foreign policy strategy

Last week’s insurrection at the Capitol in Washington DC was a jarring reminder of what Joe Biden will inherit when he takes over the US presidency on 20 January. Mr Trump’s legacy, apart from the personal and national shame of his egging on the challenge to the citadel of American democracy on 6 January, will be a country not only racked by COVID-19 and economic crisis but one whose polity has been rent asunder, exposing deep wounds that won’t easily be healed.

While Democrat victories in the run-off senatorial races in Georgia on the same day delivered Mr Biden’s party the slimmest of Congressional majorities and the prospect of some centrist legislative success, truth be his principal and his heavy presidential burden will be to try to heal a seriously afflicted country and make real the United States which he’s proclaimed and to which he’s pledged his presidency.

The nature and scale of the domestic task that faces Mr Biden also reminds strategists everywhere of the future limits to America’s beneficent imperial power. The idea that the Biden presidency presages an era in which US leadership and heft will readily fix the damage that his predecessor has wrought to international cooperation on the global economy and trade, health, the US security alliance framework in Europe and in Asia, put China back into its box and mend much else that is broken in the world today (including climate change) all by itself, is now more alive and contagious in Canberra, Ottawa, and even London today than the coronavirus itself. Some of Biden’s lieutenants, perhaps unwittingly, in daring to hope, encourage its spread.

When Europe and China settled their Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) on 30 December after a seven-year negotiation, the Anglospheric media universally condemned the initiative to lock China into new investment rules, primarily because its conclusion lacked due obeisance to the incoming US administration. As if Europe was incapable of calculating its own strategic interests in the matter. Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s nominated National Security Advisor, whose tweet that ‘the Biden-Harris administration would welcome early consultations with our European partners on our common concerns about China’s economic practices’, was widely quoted as evidence that Mr Biden’s people were miffed at not being given deference in the lead on dealing with Beijing. Forget that much of the European interest in CAI was playing catch-up to the privileged access that the United States had extracted from Beijing under duress in the USChina trade war.

The success of Mr Biden’s domestic mission will be central to the standing and influence of the United States abroad. A foreign policy strategy that contributes to geopolitical stability will demand clear recognition that diminished though still considerable US power will only triumph in cooperation with the emerging powers of Asia, most especially China but also India and Indonesia, the Americas and Africa as well as Europe.

In the security sphere, with the United Kingdom an unreliable interlocutor preoccupied with working through the consequences of its messy divorce from Europe, and Australia having lost its way in Asia, the so called ‘five eyes’ are a distraction to the main geopolitical game that the United States must navigate. Washington’s Asian alliance framework remains an important counterweight to Chinese diplomatic and economic coercion, but not the primary vehicle for a contest between China and the United States in the region. Think Mr Biden’s managing the priority of climate change. ‘The relative strategic trajectories of the United States and China have probably relegated to history the notion of ‘US primacy’ in East Asia (let alone globally),’ Paul Heer observed recently. ‘[Although] the Biden administration may not fully recognise this yet, or at least not be ready to openly acknowledge it’.

At least, the Biden administration offers promise of a more coherent foreign policy strategy after Mr Trump, to allies and all its partners alike. Aside from China, coherence in its approach to India, and more broadly South Asia, will be a crucial element for stability in Asia. India, though diminished by the incoherence in its economic policy strategies under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the impact of its mis-management of COVID-19 on the economy, which has shrunk more dramatically than most, remains a critically important geopolitical swing state.

In this week’s lead article, Michael Kugelman argues that, while US president-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy will be very different from that of President Donald Trump, ‘his administration’s likely South Asia policy will be an anomaly — a rare example of considerable continuity with Trump’.

‘Biden has vowed to bring back US global leadership, value international diplomacy, restore US alliances and promote democracy and human rights abroad. He intends to undo the dramatic — and in his view deleterious — changes that the Trump administration made to US foreign policy … to engineer a full-scale foreign policy reset’. But South Asia will be a rare case of continuity, says Kugelman.

Biden will back the rapidly growing USIndia partnership ‘that enjoyed much forward movement during the Trump years’. The two core shared interests that drive the partnership remain combating terrorism and countering China. That will include keeping the ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in play but tweaking the language around them. Biden, like Trump, also strongly supports withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thus, a workable relationship with Pakistan that revolves around securing Islamabad’s assistance in the peace process in Afghanistan has initial priority and that requires nuance in managing the diplomacy around China’s growing footprint across the subcontinent, including its relationship with Pakistan.

Biden’s emphasis on democracy and the promotion of human rights, Kugelman points out, means that South Asian states, including India as well as those often overlooked by the United States, could end up on Washington’s radar for the wrong reasons.

Climate change, a top Biden international priority and also a major threat to South Asia, however, offers an opportunity for less tense US engagement with South Asia and also the wider region including China.

These are not policies dominated by singular, muscular, if doomed, pushback against China but signal a necessary return to international cooperation on the global economy, the global commons as well as global security and the recognition that no single power, not China, not India, not Europe not even the United States will have things entirely their own way.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.