*Will Joe Biden’s Victory Turn the Dime in South Asia
*Biden Administration Could Mark a Return of America’s Liberal interventionist and Human Rights*
The incoming Biden administration needs to be ready for a Southeast Asia that is more sceptical of US commitment and careful about Beijing’s reactions. Southeast Asian capitals interested in cooperation need to be prepared to show initiative as Washington finds its footing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, economic woes and political turmoil. Efforts to ‘build back better’ collaborative trans-Pacific ties (to use a Biden campaign slogan) requires patience, political will and some appetite for risk based on a clear-eyed appreciation of the limitations set by mutual expectations. These conditions provide the basis on which tough conversations about how the renewal of Southeast Asia–US cooperation can proceed — moving beyond showing up for regional meetings, saying the right things and running freedom of navigation operations in disputed waters. Re-engaging Southeast Asia on more substantive, multilateral terms, reinvigorating ties and forging new areas of collaboration will be difficult if leaders in Washington and Southeast Asian capitals do not fully grasp these realities.
The ability of the US to do so, however, is complicated by Mr Duterte’s unusually pro-China foreign policy and his controversial ongoing war against drugs. There may be better prospects under his successor, with Mr Duterte unable to seek re-election in 2022. The result of this particular election will have a visible impact on the Philippines’ relations with China and the US, and the broader geopolitical dynamic in the South China Sea. Amid ongoing US-China competition, South-east Asian countries will strive to preserve their independence and optimise benefits from maintaining relations with both sides. The growing intensity of tensions between the two great powers, however, will make this balancing act increasingly difficult to maintain. While the United States must not forget that its power derives from its global reach and access, partners in Asia also have a responsibility to show greater leadership as geopolitical challenges grow in complexity. Initiatives such as the South Korea–Japan agreement on comfort women issues, Japan’s civilian coast guard capacity building, and the potential Indonesia–Australia joint maritime patrols should be a growing feature of a new autonomy shown by US allies in managing the region.
Equally, allies can contribute further in terms of political capacity. As the US’s closest ally in Asia, Japan has an opportunity to act as a bridge to leaders such as Filipino President who otherwise may not be receptive to the United States. The United States should also leverage Japan’s attempts to reshape the geostrategic environment. Despite opposition from Washington, Japan has pushed ahead with fostering closer ties with Russia. Whether it is balancing against China, responding to North Korea or meeting the region’s energy and security needs, Japan recognises that Russia should be incorporated into an Asia-Pacific regional framework. Unlike former US leaders, Biden believes that he can build a rapport with Putin here Japan can help. 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 US–India 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.
Pakistan too will want to avoid a U.S. focus on minority rights, but will hope that Mr. Biden keeps the spotlight on the situation in Jammu-Kashmir and India. “There is a legitimate concern that a Biden administration could mark a return of America’s liberal interventionist agenda focused on human rights, transitional justice and sanctions. Such moralist pressure could push countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar further into Chinese hands,”explained Constantino Xavier of the Centre for Social and Economic Progress (formerly Brookings India). “Instead, Delhi’s expectation is that the U.S. under Biden would keep Trump’s primary focus on China as the greatest strategic challenge in South Asia.”
In Afghanistan The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in the final year of Donald Trump’s presidency, paving the way for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Weeks ahead of the 2020 election, Trump said all US soldiers stationed in the war-torn country would return home by Christmas this year, an announcement welcomed by the Taliban. Hashim Wahdatyar, a Washington-based Afghan political analyst, believes Joe Biden’s victory in the election is bad news for the Taliban who fear that Biden might keep a small presence of troops in Afghanistan. in case of Pakistan Post 9/11, Pakistan became an important ally of the US in the war on terror, receiving military and civilian aid. But the alliance has since soured with Washington repeatedly accusing Pakistan of supporting and harboring terrorists and with Islamabadcozying up with Beijing in recent years. “A Biden administration is likely to be pragmatic in its dealings with Islamabad,” he said. “It will press Islamabad to act on terrorism-related issues, (crackdown on) terrorist funding and money laundering, and seek to support peace in Afghanistan,” said Haqqani. “Pakistan wants the good old days of close ties with the US to return,” he said, but “American priorities have changed.”….
*Writer Shahid Majeed Mir is an Author of the book “Untold Stories of Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org*