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The aspirations of the TRUMPED - what to expect for the Asia-Pacific countries from the Biden administration

One of the American fast food chains, which has offices all over the world, manages to diversify the assortment of local cafes interspersed with national culinary notes in each of the countries of its presence. But will the new president's retinue be able to design a menu so that Chinese duck, Japanese sashimi, and Indian curry framed by lesser known but numerous Asian snacks do not turn into indigestible mince?

Participants of the expert seminar "After Trump: What Will US Policy in Asia Be?", Held at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, Higher School of Economics, gave an expert assessment of the possibility of restarting relations between the United States and its key partners in Asia. The initial principles of the seminar were reduced to the following points. The United States is gradually turning from a solution to economic, political and security problems in the Asia-Pacific region into their source: the recipes that were characteristic of the American administrations of the late 1980s - first half of the 1990s stopped working during the presidency of Donald Trump. In parallel with the renationalization of foreign policy as a global phenomenon, the American internal political agenda is increasingly projected in the APR, which is characterized by a loss of control and a randomly improvisational approach to solving problems. At the end of 2020, the APR countries have finally moved away from the perception of the "collective West" as a role model. Accordingly, in their priorities, the importance of dialogue with the United States has all the prerequisites to decrease, and the risks of interaction with Washington will increase.The expert seminar was built around four cross-cutting topics, united by a common logic with generalizing assessments. A separate session was devoted to each of these topics.

The aspirations of the TRUMPED - what to expect for the Asia-Pacific countries from the Biden administration
Photo Shoot: Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash


The session "Asia's Expectations from the Biden Administration: Discussions and Emphasis" centered around the following question: how do Asia-Pacific players see the current regional situation, the new US administration's readiness to offer the region a new agenda, and the region's willingness to respond to it. With regard to China, it was noted that the arrival of the Biden administration does not change the essence of Sino-American relations, since a bipartisan consensus has formed in the United States on the need to pursue a policy of containing China. Washington's course towards tough isolation of the PRC in the field of high technologies will continue in the future. A realistic maximum is to take an inventory of the sanctions regime and find mutually acceptable "solutions" on isolated issues, for example, on the climate agenda. In addition, given the Democrats' strong ties to American transnational business, China will try to use its gigantic economic ties as a tool in its relationship with the United States.

A characteristic feature of the ideological and intellectual mainstream of Japan was relief from the chaos and "schizophrenia" that the Trump administration brought to Japanese-American relations, as well as the fact that Washington reaffirmed its adherence to the Security Treaty. For Tokyo, the real shock was the criticism of the Trump administration for its unwillingness to more actively build up its military potential. Now, under Biden, Japan is looking forward to a US return to more traditional, institutionalized approaches and a strengthening of all-round ties with allies.

The Republic of Korea's expectations regarding the arrival of Biden are largely similar to those in Japan. High priority is given to strengthening the bilateral military alliance while maintaining hopes for a reset of the dialogue on the Korean Peninsula issue. In this regard, Kazakhstan hopes that the summit between Moon Jae-in and Joe Biden will help intensify the joint efforts of countries to establish permanent peace and stability on the peninsula. At the same time, fears persist that D. Biden will turn out to be less flexible in dialogue than D. Trump.

The US and India see the prospects for Asia-Pacific policy in a similar way. Its experts note that as long as Washington's policy of containing China continues under any American administration, the demand for India, at least, will not decrease. New Delhi expects D. Biden to overturn a number of decisions made by his predecessor. One of them is the sanctions against Iran, which do not allow it to import Iranian raw materials and threaten the implementation of joint infrastructure projects. However, in general, Biden's personality is perceived ambiguously in India. On the one hand, he has repeatedly stated his desire to strengthen relations with New Delhi, especially since there are many ethnic Indians in the Biden administration. On the other hand, India fears the preservation of the US "habit" of teaching other countries about human rights, as well as the continuation of the Cold War with China, only in a different form.

For ASEAN, Biden's arrival is a breath of fresh air. The Ten counts on a more consistent foreign policy and a more individual approach to member countries. In addition, the Association looks forward to strengthening the elements of multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific agenda of the new US administration and public recognition from Washington of the Association's central role in the region. However, certain fears are caused by Biden's affiliation with the democratic wing, and, as a result, potential attempts by the United States to spread liberal values ​​in the region and devote significant influence to human rights issues - one of the most sensitive topics for the countries of Southeast Asia.


During the second panel of the seminar "American Alliances and the Indo-Pacific Initiative Forming in the Asian Agenda of the D. Biden Administration" its participants discussed the prospects for the development of American alliances and the ITR initiative in US politics. For China, two issues are of fundamental importance: the participation of American allies in the economic and technological blockade of Beijing, which negatively affects the interests and activities of Chinese companies, and the prospects for the deployment of American medium-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region - a threat to China's security. It is likely that the United States, with the support of allies, will try to influence local governments to withdraw from agreements with China on the supply of telecommunications equipment. In response, China will systematically use the tools of economic influence - the status of the region's main "wallet".

Considering these topics from a Japanese perspective, it seems likely that the approaches of the new and previous Tokyo administrations to the issues of military cooperation with Washington are likely to be consistent, the purpose of which is to stop the Chinese threat - no matter whether it is overt or exaggerated. The only fundamental difference between the current prime minister of the country E. Suga and S. Abe: the new prime minister is a politician of a more bureaucratic type, less charismatic.

For the Republic of Korea, another exchange of trade and sanctions strikes between Beijing and Washington can hardly be called a favorable scenario. Biden may ask Seoul to support his economic policy towards Beijing. It will become increasingly difficult for ROK to “walk the tightrope” between the United States and China against the background of intensifying rivalry between the great powers. The prospect of unleashing a new "arms race" in the region by the efforts of the United States and China also raises concerns in Kazakhstan. Finally, given the construction of an intricate network of allies and partners against China, the Biden administration could draw Seoul into regional alliances in more principled and sophisticated ways than the Trump administration.

At the forefront of India's policy will be the strengthening of its dominant positions in the Indian Ocean, for which ASEAN-centered institutions of multilateral cooperation and selective intensification of dialogue with Japan and the Southeast Asian states on issues related to containing China in maritime spaces are best suited. Apparently, Biden will more actively involve India in a semi-informal alliance like QUAD, which is in line with India's interests in the region. At the same time, India is now at a crossroads: increased tensions with China and the need to inject additional funds into defense, and at the same time, the need for resources to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

With regard to military-strategic plots, ASEAN will prepare for US attempts to drag the top ten into an American-centric version of the Indo-Pacific region. In all likelihood, Hanoi will become Washington's main target. ASEAN is jealous of Vietnam's attempts to become more actively involved in a US-centric version of the Indo-Pacific. In addition, under Biden, the strengthening and greater institutionalization of ties with Washington's formal allies - Thailand and the Philippines - is likely. The Association's response, as before, will be to try to adapt its multilateral institutions to the emerging reality, and ideally to strengthen its own positioning as their driving force in the region.


This issue became the subject of discussion at a separate session of the last seminar. Their assessment from the Chinese perspective was critical: US actions undermine the development of industries and value chains connecting the Celestial Empire with key economic and business partners. A number of large technology companies, manufacturers of electronic devices and microchips were under the sanctions. The Aircraft Industry Corporation (Comac) and its major subsidiaries have been identified as military companies, threatening all Chinese civil aircraft programs. Hence, the task is to diversify its capabilities, building alternative directions and forms of cooperation, including with Russia. China will strive to connect its resources, incl. the Belt and Road Initiative to re-establish links with many regional partners.

In Japan, expectations are different: Trump's economic nationalism has been one of the main irritants in US-Japan relations in recent years. Now the arrival of the new US administration is seen as the prospect of Washington's refusal to put pressure on Tokyo on trade issues and a return to the usual and "normal" for Japan form of cooperation with regional neighbors (where, through the efforts of its business, Japan, in fact, has built a second economy outside its national borders). Japan's key interest is not to exert undue pressure on China, to develop economic ties with the PRC, and to promote multilateral initiatives in which Beijing can participate. RCEP is a vivid example of such interaction.

In the Republic of Korea, the issue of the United States' return to multilateral economic policy is viewed from different angles. On the one hand, the promotion of more open and transparent trade and investment regimes under D. Biden will have a positive impact on the South Korean economy. On the other hand, there are fears of tightening investment market conditions and a continuation of the trade conflict with China, which will put Seoul in a vulnerable position.

With regard to the processes of multilateral regional cooperation, for India there is no question of joining the VPTP and RCEP: this would mean the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers and the death of a number of sectors of the Indian economy. New Delhi's position on participation in trade blocs may change, but only if the national economy grows over the next five years, which is far from obvious in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for ASEAN, for it trade and sanctions wars are a long-term strategic challenge and at the same time an incentive to diversify and build more flexible cooperation mechanisms. Against this background, the signing of the RCEP agreement is the main diplomatic success of 2020 and a strategic tool for adapting to the US-China trade conflicts and increasing its own diplomatic weight. At the same time, the interests of the Association do not meet the prospect of "getting shocked" from the United States for active economic cooperation with China.


The session summarizing the results of the discussion touched upon the question of whether D. Biden's administration is ready to offer the region a consolidating cooperation agenda, and what it could be. The Chinese dimension of this issue is such that the Celestial Empire would see the main consolidating element of the dialogue on climate change, while the discussion of military and even more strategic issues is overly politicized and difficult to implement in the current conditions. In particular, against the background of accusations against China of the genocide of the Uighurs, the likelihood of a dialogue on anti-terrorist topics is minimal. In terms of standardization and technology, cooperation is also unlikely, especially given the dramatic tightening of the US counterintelligence regime. This jeopardizes cooperation in the field of science and education.

Japan will remain in an ambivalent position: not wanting to quarrel with either Washington or Beijing, Tokyo will, as far as its capabilities, diplomatic skills and international conditions allow, balance between them. Moreover, if there is an escalation in Japanese-Chinese relations, then Japan will be involved in this process not even because of solidarity and allied obligations with the United States. Rather, Japan's movement towards an anti-Chinese direction may be associated with increased pressure from Beijing on Japan, and Tokyo will be forced to respond.

For the Republic of Korea, the main question, which has not yet been answered either at the level of official or expert circles, is this: will D. Biden and his team be able to manually “reconfigure” the situation on the Korean Peninsula, which remained generally unchanged after the presidency D. Trump.

India has little interest in what kind of consolidation initiatives Biden will be proposing. The main thing is that it does not contradict the Indian sphere of influence. What will happen outside of Indian interests, New Delhi is concerned about indirectly. India will accept any agenda of the new American administration, even without a consolidating component, if it contains the following ingredients: strengthening India's position in the Indian Ocean, cooperation with ASEAN, non-interference in the internal affairs of the APR countries. But the main thing is that New Delhi will continue to arrange the established informal alliance with Washington and its allies.

There are no particular signs that the United States is ready to propose such an ASEAN agenda. This is primarily due to the general degradation of relations between the United States and China. At the same time, ASEAN is interested in developing a dialogue with Washington on countering non-traditional security threats and issues related to climate change.

At the end of the seminar, the discussion participants gave an answer to a generalizing question: can the administration of D. Biden return to the idea of ​​an “inclusive APR”, and is the region ready to accept this idea. The assessments are discouraging: the speakers of the seminar stated that in the current conditions there are no objective prerequisites for this. This is due to the consistent degradation of American-Chinese relations, and the internal political split in the United States, and the socio-economic and internal political problems of a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the ITR. Accordingly, not only the significance, but even simply the demand for such an installation in cooperation between the countries of the Asia-Pacific region will decrease.

Answering this question, the participants in the discussions raised and logically follows from it: if we move away from the agenda of the "inclusive APR", then in what direction should we move? This topic will be the subject of discussion at the next expert seminar of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics.

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