JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Democratic candidate Joe Biden was declared a winner of the United States presidential election with 279 electoral votes, defeating the Republican candidate and the incumbent Donald Trump in an election that left many across the country with bated breath.
Both elderly candidates had tight races in some battleground states. Trump’s campaign filed a lawsuit and demanded a recount as a protest against Biden’s lead in numerous states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
“Unlike some other democratic nations, the US does not vote its President by national popular vote. Instead, we have separate contests in each of the 50 states and District of Columbia.
“Some states reliably vote Democratic or Republican by wide margins. For example, California is a state that is reliably Democratic; Utah is reliably Republican.
“Some states are more mixed, and candidates believe that they can “swing” the outcome in these states by devoting more time and resources to them. This is why you saw candidates spending a lot of time in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and a couple of others,” senior policy analyst Marc Joffe told TOC a day after the election results were announced.
Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris will be inaugurated in January 2021.
The former vice-president under Barack Obama’s administration will become the oldest US president in history — he turns 78 on 20 November.
Harris will become the first woman vice-president and the first politician of South Asian descent to hold such the post in the US.
Beyond the US, many followed development in the election closely from the start of the polls on 3 November.
TOC spoke to international relations and foreign policy experts to find out their views on the impact of the impending Biden presidency on ASEAN and the world.
Nothing will change much in US foreign policy
Indonesian international relations expert Hikmahanto Juwana told TOC on 6 November that nothing will change the US foreign policy, regardless who becomes the POTUS, because the US bureaucracy plays a role in maintaining all systems.
“Politicians—namely President, vice president, ministers—may come and go. However, bureaucrats are there to stay. They are recruited from the bottom. Their role is to preserve all the government policies, including foreign policy. Therefore, whoever will be the POTUS, nothing will change significantly,” Prof Hikmahanto explained.
In the US government, the federal bureaucracy is responsible for putting the laws that Congress passes into implementation. In the implementation, the bureaucracy has flexibility in the form of administrative discretion.
Prof Hikmahanto added that any US president could showcase a different style of leadership, indicating a political party he or she is from.
However, the fundamental policy will unlikely change much.
The US vs China rivalry and ASEAN
Prof Hikmahanto did not specify Biden’s policy at ASEAN and global levels, saying that Biden must restore values ignored by Trump during his presidency.
“Under Trump, the US prioritizes too much on domestic issues. He seemed to ignore the world.
“Secondly, Trump’s foreign policies were unpredictable. How can the US leave the World Health Organization (WHO) and pull out from several vital deals, namely the Iran nuclear deal and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF)? Nobody has ever imagined that Trump held a summit with North Korea.
“Also, Trump fired anyone whenever he likes. When he protested against someone, he tweeted openly and did not want to listen to bureaucrats,” he added.
Meanwhile, Arry Bainus from Bandung’s Padjajaran University stated that Biden’s win brings a positive change to the world.
“In terms of ASEAN, Biden sees Indonesia as a key player in ASEAN to make the situation in the region conducive, especially in the disputed South China Sea,” Prof Arry said in a virtual discussion on 7 November.
ASEAN does not want to take side with either the US or China in the contested waters given that the bloc wants to maintain a good relationship with the world’s two biggest economies.
Biden will likely involve US allies in the bloc to deal with China’s influence no matter who the POTUS will be, and China is always the country that threatens the US hegemony, Professor of Strategy and International Business at INSEAD Michael A. Witt said as cited in MediaIndonesia.
ASEAN was not Trump’s priority, as he tended to focus on the trade spat with China and North Korea’s nuclear issue. Trump’s absence from the ASEAN summit in Bangkok in October last year due to his choice to attend the APEC Summit in Chile in the following months triggered disappointment from ASEAN member countries.
Both Prof Witt and Prof Arry agreed that Biden will shift the focus to human rights issues such as China’s human rights violations targeting Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Province.
What about the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
The US under Biden will likely return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after Trump left the trade agreement, citing that such a deal could harm the US manufacturing sector. Prof Hikmahanto said that the TPP is nothing without the presence of the US due to its large market.
In 2018, 11 members of the TPP signed a new agreement without the US with a new name: The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The members of the CPTPP are Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Brunei, Malaysia, Australia, and Singapore.
Former Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono revealed in 2015 why Indonesia refused to join the then-TPP during his presidency.
First, Indonesia was preparing for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
Secondly, Indonesia at that time was participating in the negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is the economic cooperation involving ASEAN, China, Japan, and South Korea. Indonesia is not an export-oriented country, unlike neighbouring Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Prof Hikmahanto claimed that the CPTPP only benefits a country if it is also a production base, not only a market.
“Ironically for Indonesia, Vietnam has recently attracted investors as a production base,” the lecturer added.
Legal certainty, cheaper logistics cost, and price of land in industrial areas have been among factors that lure investors into opening their business in Vietnam. In the first month of 2019, the Vietnam Foreign Investment Body recorded that foreign investment reached US$ 16.74 billion, the highest in the last four years.
However, Biden will face a tough challenge from his party, as Democrats are usually more protective than Republicans, Harvard University’s Douglas Dillon professor of government Graham Allison told CNBC.
“In terms of the domestic politics, Democrats – and especially the Democratic base — are more protectionist than the Republicans.
“So I think it’ll be a difficult challenge, certainly would have been one that Biden will be interested in,” the former assistant secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton and special advisor to the secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan added.