Joe Biden may become the first U.S. president in American history who assumes office without his opponent having given a concession speech. People in Japan are literally stunned. Even 10 days after Election Day, no official winner has been declared in the United States. This could never happen in this country, at least.
With no overt evidence of irregularities having had taken place during the election process, the rest of the world seems to be disregarding the Trump administration’s allegations of voter fraud. European political leaders issued carefully concerted messages of congratulations to Biden soon after he was projected the winner in the state of Pennsylvania.
What would a Biden presidency mean to Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul? Will this affect the trans-Atlantic alliance or already souring U.S.-Russia relations? How will America’s friends and foes in the Middle East react — or overreact — to the coming new reality? The following are some of my observations.
As I wrote last week, with Mr. Biden’s victories by narrow margins in battle ground states, “Trumpism” will survive the election. Without moderate conservatism and realistic liberalism, American politics will most likely continue to remain polarized. This will make it more difficult for Mr. Biden to govern the nation.
Despite a wish to return to his version of internationalism and traditional alliances, Mr. Biden may face many obstacles as he tries to advance his agenda — both domestic and overseas. The new American president may consider rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Iran nuclear pact while finding it difficult, for domestic reasons, to pick up where the U.S. left off when it pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
Some major goals of President Xi Jinping, a second-generation leader of the Communist revolution, is to survive the “middle income trap with the Chinese characteristics” and to make “China great again.” For his people’s republic to survive until 2049, the centennial year of its rule, Beijing must make a favorable deal with Washington.
The victory by Biden, his old friend, may give Xi a golden opportunity to end the useless trade wars instigated by the Trump administration. Mr. Xi may try his best to overcome Washington’s continued anti-China stance by making a big climate change mitigation deal, even at the expense of America’s Asian allies.
President Vladimir Putin’s honeymoon with Donald Trump is over. Now that Biden has labeled Russia an enemy of the United States, Putin may find it more difficult to get the West to lift economic sanctions against his country. This may force Moscow to align itself closer to Beijing.
The Europeans seem to be overjoyed with Biden’s purported victory, already making it a fait accompli, even though there has been no official declaration of a winner as of yet. Despite such European wishful thinking, the EU still however, could face a tit for tat from Washington, which may demand a bigger contribution from its European allies in the name of strengthening the NATO alliance.
New Delhi is also open to a Biden presidency, although India has never aligned itself ideologically with America’s version of an “open, liberal and rule-based international order.” The goal of India is to utilize the power of the United States as a counterbalance to China while ultimately protecting Indian values, culture and sovereignty.
Seoul may find itself trapped in a quandary. President Moon Jae-in’s attempt to end the decades-long inter-Korean conflict via U.S. President Trump failed in disaster. Its relations with Japan are also desperately bad. But unlike Trump, Biden is neither naive nor ignorant in international politics.
The situation is probably worse with Pyongyang. That country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, having no real intention of denuclearizing his nation, never really trusted his American and South Korean counterparts. It may be doubly difficult for the young North Korean leader to start everything from scratch again with Mr. Biden.
The loss of Mr. Trump may cost the oil kingdom much more than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman can imagine. Biden’s former boss never trusted Riyadh or Tel Aviv. Rather, former President Barack Obama took a chance and tried to stabilize the Middle East by engaging Tehran, a rival regional power. A resumed U.S.-Iran dialogue is a nightmare for Saudi Arabia.
Tehran welcomes a Biden presidency although the jurists of Shiite Islam will never fully trust the the U.S., or as they call it, the “Great Satan.” Washington may try to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, but only with additional conditions. Even if Biden tries his best, if a hawkish Iranian president is elected to office in 2021, the rapprochement efforts may face further hurdles.
Although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first foreign leader to send a congratulatory message to Biden, this may not improve the already gloomy U.S.-Turkey relations. Ankara’s ambition to become a major power in the Middle East and Central Asia may make Washington reconsider the value of the alliance.
Tel Aviv may find a Biden administration more difficult to deal with. Israel used the Trump administration to achieve its dream — once thought unachievable — of normalizing relations with the Arab sheikhdoms in the Gulf. Now Israel must be holding its breath to see who will be directing Biden’s Middle East policy team.
Tokyo is ready to work with the new Biden government. While some will miss the golden era of Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump’s friendship, many predict and hope that whoever becomes president, the U.S. policy for maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region will continue in the years to come.
What Tokyo must remind itself is the following: Although the world may be getting back to normalcy with Biden’s victory, such normalcy is nothing but an “Alice in Wonderland” scenario, with many difficult issues that still need to be addressed and solved. Thus, the nation must prepare itself to face reality. The political entertainer’s reality show is over.
Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies. A former career diplomat, Miyake also serves as special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Japanese government.