In the first of a three-part series on the 2020 US Presidential Election, Dr Michael Jonathan Green and Dr Charles Edel provided their first-take impressions of the election results, the manner both major parties have responded to them, and what they might mean for US foreign policy at the global level and towards Asia.
REGIONAL STRATEGIC AND POLITICAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Wednesday, 11 November 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, with the support of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, organised a webinar on “The 2020 US Election Results and Asia: Views from the USA” on Wednesday, delivered by Dr Michael Jonathan Green and Dr Charles Edel. Dr Green is Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and director of Asian Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, while Dr Edel is Senior Fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. This was the first of a three-part webinar series which will explore regional responses to the 2020 US Presidential Election.
Dr Green kicked off the webinar by outlining the positives that had emerged out of the election – the US experienced its largest voter turnout in 120 years, there was no Russian interference, and despite President Trump’s assertions, there was no cheating nor fraud.
While the Republicans eventually failed to win the White House, Dr Green noted that some 70 million voters still backed Trump despite his divisive rhetoric and constant assault on the country’s democratic institutions and international alliances. This polarisation, Dr Green surmised, was likely due to a combination of factors including media consumption patterns as well as rural-urban and socioeconomic divides.
Nonetheless, the Republicans likely managed to retain control over the Senate and made inroads into the House of Representatives. This, Dr Green noted, will significantly impact the implementation of the incoming Biden administration’s domestic agenda. The Biden’s cabinet picks, for instance, will likely be shuffled in anticipation of opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate. It is thus unlikely that a ‘liberal’ Biden cabinet would emerge. The incoming Biden administration, however, will likely enjoy bipartisan support in foreign policy and defence issues vis-à-vis Asia. A CSIS survey, Dr Green noted, indicated broad consensus for dealing with China through multilateral platforms, rather than unilaterally, and strong support for defending US allies such as Japan, Korea, and Australia.
Dr Edel, on the other hand, stressed that the final composition of the US Senate will only be revealed in January after runoff elections in Georgia are completed. These elections will determine whether the Democrats or Republicans clinch the majority in the Senate, which would resultantly affect the Biden administration’s personnel and policy decisions. Dr Edel also cautioned against what he described as the “conventional wisdom” that the US would be too preoccupied with its domestic troubles to have the bandwidth for foreign relations, in particular with Asia. He argued that elements such as a robust defence budget, commitment to human rights and democracy, and bipartisan support for funding robust foreign engagement programmes, Dr Edel argued, will remain consistent.
Dr Edel also outlined several “instincts and inclinations” of the new administration, with regard to its Asia policy. Firstly, the Biden administration will place importance on “getting competitive and getting competition right”, as opposed to Trump who was seen by many to be confrontational without being competitive. Secondly, while allies will be central to Biden’s foreign policy, US desire to seek burden-sharing will persist and allies will be expected to pull their weight. Southeast Asia will also likely feature prominently again in US foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis its rivalry with China. Thirdly, while decoupling between US and China is set to continue, this will likely be a selective ‘scalpel’ decoupling rather than broad ‘chainsaw’ one. Selective decoupling in domains such as military technology and research will be accompanied by selective engagement in domains such as climate change and global health challenges. Lastly, the importance of technology will continue to grow under Biden, particularly in areas such as 5G rollouts.
The webinar concluded with a virtual Q&A session that covered issues ranging from the ideological splintering of both the Republican and Democratic parties, Biden’s approach to the South China Sea and the Quad grouping, as well as prospects of the US rejoining the TPP.