Many of America’s friends in Asia have high expectations for the incoming administration of Joe Biden. Biden has, after all, signalled that the region will be a top priority and promised to “build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviours and human rights violations”.
This regional focus and devotion to alliances and partnerships reminds many of the Obama-era “pivot” to Asia. Indeed, the basic logic of the pivot still holds: the global centre of gravity is shifting towards Asia, so more of America’s time, energy and resources should be devoted to the region. Yet, Biden will need to update his approach to both adapt to Asia’s new realities and learn lessons from the previous approach.
Much has changed in Asia since Biden was vice president. In 2016, Biden reassured an Australian audience, “Don’t worry about our election. The better angels in America will prevail.” But in 2020, he tweeted, “better angels must prevail again”. Critics charge that Donald Trump has “wrecked American power in the Pacific”. Meanwhile, Trump administration officials contend that they have transformed US policy by confronting a rising China.
There is some truth to both claims. Disentangling these narratives is critical to charting a new path in a rapidly changing Asia.