Photo: Mampiti Mohapi. Credit: Sechaba Mokhethi | IDN-INPS - Photo: 2021

Asia Welcomes An “Engaging” US President Biden

By Kalinga Seneviratne

SYDNEY (IDN) – Asian newspapers have welcomed the new American President Biden’s “engaging with the world” message in his inauguration speech to that of his predecessor Trump’s “America First” rhetoric. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has welcomed President Biden’s “engaging” tone in his speech on January 20.

Brunei’s Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, who is serving as ASEAN’s chair this year, said foreign ministers of the bloc’s member states looked forward to working with Biden’s administration to strengthen their strategic partnership with the US for the region’s peace, security, stability and prosperity. “We look forward to the next meeting between ASEAN and the US and between us and our US counterparts,” he said.

Thailand’s Bangkok Post, however, warned the Thai government that the new US administration would emphasise human rights, democracy and climatic change in its foreign policy stance towards the ASEAN region like what the Obama administration did, and the kingdom could be targetted. It quoted a number of Thai academics in issuing this warning.

“The US now has trade deficits with many countries, including Thailand, and it will try to fix that. Therefore, we might see some Thai products lose their trade benefits,” noted Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “The US could use human rights, the promotion of democracy and the environment, which are big issues in Thailand right now, to justify its actions (in trade and foreign policy)”.

The Trump administration had a notably small presence in ASEAN. President Trump briefly attended the ASEAN Summit once – in 2017 in the Philippines. Otherwise, lower-ranking Washington officials attended ASEAN meetings. The Trump administration did not appoint a new representative to ASEAN to replace the last ambassador, who left the post in 2017.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi highlighted the fact that in the midst of the increasing rivalry in the region between US and China ASEAN needs to send a message to the new US administration “to carry out multilateralism that is inclusive and fair”. She was speaking to the media at an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting this week.

Meanwhile, China’s Global Times has welcomed a “more rational” US leader. “He is much more rational than his predecessor Donald Trump who attributed a large number of US domestic problems to external factors” it notes, adding, “and a very important point is: China can be a partner with the US in fighting COVID-19, resolving climate problems and promoting growth. Compared with confrontational policies, the China-US cooperation is obviously more conducive to realizing Washington’s new ambitions”.

Global Times noted that Biden administration’s work to rebuild the US would not be easy because “the US is facing more difficulties than it did four years ago (and) its available resources are even less abundant”. Pointing out that all the conflicts between the US and China have been provoked by the Trump administration, it added that, “if both the US and China focus on doing their own things well and stop fighting against each other, the two countries will move forward based on their existing foundations. From this, the world will also be much more harmonious”.

China Daily on the other hand carried a front-page story on China’s imposition of travel bans on 28 members of the former President Trump’s administration including its Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who they said had been involved “on a spree of political vandalism”. They are banned from entering China, Hong Kong or Macau, and also being involved in any China-related business deals.

The China Daily argued that the State Department under Pompeo was an aberration in the history of Sino-US relations. “Hopefully the final dark chapter will be gone with Pompeo and other politicians like him, as we would hope the Biden administration’s State Department under Anthony Blinken would look ahead and move forward, not to be entangled in the terrible mess created by his predecessor,” it added.

Japan’s Nikkei Times said that Japan is keeping a close eye on the new government’s overall approach to China. A stable relationship between Washington and Beijing is “extremely important,” Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Naoki Okada has told reporters.

But, according to the newspaper, some in Tokyo expect little change in America’s hawkish stance toward China. The hope in Japan is that the Biden administration will continue supporting the free and open Indo-Pacific concept that Tokyo and Washington have advocated over the past few years.

In this context, Nikkei Times said that Japan has welcomed the new US national security advisor Jake Sullivan’s confirmation that Washington’s defence treaty with Tokyo applies to the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, to which China has laid claims.

India’s Asian Age also welcomed the conciliatory tone of Biden’s inauguration speech, noting that it has been tempered by post-pandemic humility “after the US has been scarred more than any other nation with 400,000 deaths and millions more sick”.  It added that “one can only hope the return to decency and truth in America might ease the path to a global revival too”.

The Hindu of India in an editorial while welcoming the swearing in of a Vice-President Kamala Harris with Indian and African heritage, and the multicultural theme of the ceremony, warned that such dressing may not be able to heal the deep wounds in American society.

“He (Biden) would do well to remember, as he goes about dismantling the Trump legacy, that 74 million people voted for his opponent, and Mr. Trump has encouraged them to believe that the election was stolen,” noted The Hindu.

“If the Capitol building attack was an indication of the unhinged rage seething below the ostensibly peaceful transfer of power, it may not be long before the America of economically disenchanted white privilege again rears its head in a manner that today’s political victors find unsavoury,” noted the newspaper. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 January 2021]

Image credit: US Asean Mission

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