Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Asia needs a strong America to get involved in the region, but will Biden oblige?

Asia is wondering how attentive a Joe Biden administration will be to its concerns.

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After the Trump years of America First, Asia is wondering what to expect from Joe Biden.

A powerful US reach extends to nearly every corner of the Asia-Pacific and affects everything from security to trade to climate change.

In his four years in office, President Donald Trump shook the foundations of US relations here as he upended expectations by courting traditional rivals and attacking allies.

Now, as Biden looks first to unite a bitterly divided America, there’s worry that Asia will be left on the shelf. Anxious allies fear they will be forgotten and powerful rivals left to do as they like without America wielding the big stick.

Beijing’s unabashed expansionist policies and growing military capabilities are worrying China’s much smaller neighbours. North Korea, an irksome minnow in comparison, still has the capacity to cause anxiety in the region.

Some countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Cambodia, have pivoted toward China because of heavy investment and their need for economic recovery.

“It will take time for the US to rebuild trust,” said Bridget Welsh, honorary research associate at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. “US power will never be what it was.”

Richard Heydarian, an analyst in the Philippines told the Associated Press, “Biden is likely to be more wary in his dealings with strongman leaders like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Thailand’s Prayut Chan-o-cha and Cambodia’s Hun Sen.

“A more cautious Biden could also mean a degree of stability in relations with tricky allies and partners in Southeast Asia and the region,” he said. “We are going to see American leadership but much more in conjunction with regional players and powers, including Japan, Australia, and India.”

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