By Rakib Al Hasan

New U.S. administration: Challenges and opportunities

January 25, 2021 - 12:39

Joe Biden has been elected as the new president of the United States in a victory. Trump's defeat has brought global relief.

 However, the world will not go back to the way it was in 2016 or the rise of the Trump era. The new American administration faces complicated challenges inside and outside the country. Meanwhile, Biden has pledged not to compromise on human rights and democracy, especially when it comes to Arab regimes in the Middle East (West Asia).

Let's start with climate change. Biden said the United States would return to the Paris climate agreement. Most countries welcomed the return of the United States to the treaty. Biden says he wants to set a goal of zero-carbon emissions by 2050. To return to the Paris Agreement, he would have to formally set these goals. At the same time, a new national commitment to reduce carbon emissions has to be mentioned.

Most observers expect carbon emissions to be reduced by 45-50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The matter is difficult but possible and consistent with what Europe is doing. Biden's return to the Paris Agreement doesn’t need congressional approval. U.S. public opinion is also largely in favor of a return to the deal. Two-thirds of voters say climate change is a serious problem. However, in order to deal with this problem, it is necessary to consider whether they are ready to pay more for fuel.

There is no doubt over the importance of America's return to the climate accord. In the last four years, people all over the world have noticed that not only the temperature has risen, but also the incidence of floods, droughts, fires, and cyclones has increased. Europe has taken an ambitious approach to environment-friendly projects and is working closely with China, the world's largest carbon emitter.

 If Biden can formally set U.S. carbon emissions targets by 2030 before next year's UN climate summit, other countries will be motivated to do the same. China will also speed up its de-carbonization. Of course, not all governments welcome the arrival of carbon warriors in the White House, such as the Brazilian government. This government is destroying the Amazon rainforest. Biden has already threatened that Brazil will suffer extreme economic consequences if it does not stop.

The health sector is another area where the United States is expected greater cooperation. Donald Trump announced the decision to pull the United States out of the World Health Organization (WHO) in July, accusing it of being under the control of China. However, Biden reversed the decision on the first day of his term. The process of withdrawing from the United States is expected to end in July 2021. THE new U.S. president can stop that process with an executive order. 

The United States is the fourth largest donor to WHO. In 2019, the country contributed 15 percent of the WHO budget. The United States is expected to join a global coalition to fund the development of Covid-19 test drugs and vaccines and their distribution to poor countries. International cooperation is expected to increase during Biden's tenure compared to Trump. 

Since Biden was elected, various countries have been analyzing where their national interests will benefit or suffer. China cautiously welcomed him. A Chinese magazine called him an "old friend,” according to the Global Times.

Under Trump, China was happy that American power would weaken. But China was angry with him for his warlike nature. China feared a sudden shift in U.S. policy on the Taiwan problem that could bring the two countries closer to war. Beijing hopes Washington will be more vigilant under the Biden presidency. Trump built the tariff wall in a futile attempt to equalize imports of goods from China to its exports to that country. The Chinese are skeptical of American policy. Rather, China expects it to reduce tariffs in some cases.

 However, China does not expect involvement in the construction of the 5G network or a change in U.S. attitudes and policies in the South China Sea.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had high hopes for Trump's victory. However, he did not hesitate to send a congratulatory message to Biden after his victory. Biden's role in India is unlikely to be very different from Trump's. Because it is not possible for the United States to strike an effective balance against China without India. 

However, India will come under pressure from the Biden administration for human rights abuses and insults to democracy. In particular, the Kashmir issue will be revived.

The Biden administration's important role in the way the Modi government has turned violent in Kashmir, including human rights abuses and torture, is beginning to be seen. In the meantime, the new American administration has embarrassed the Indian government over the appointment of two women of Kashmiri descent.

When it comes to asserting their power, U.S. allies in Asia will expect Biden's policy to be closer to Trump's than Barack Obama's. Obama drew the red line in the South China Sea. He did little when China crossed that line. Trump, on the other hand, vehemently rejected China's claim to the sea and increased the U.S. naval presence. He reiterated America's defense commitment to Japan and sold arms to Taiwan. He sought to restore the credibility of U.S. hegemony in Asia.

China’s adversaries are concerned that Biden could give Beijing some leeway on security issues as it seeks to achieve other goals, such as cooperation in climate change. Japan's new Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide expects more relations than usual with his country's main ally, the United States, and therefore seeks professional consultations with the United States.

Trump severed trade agreements with South Korea and threatened to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korean soil if Seoul did not pay more for the presence of U.S. troops. At the time, Biden described the threat as "irrational and reckless." When he came to power, he promised to strengthen the U.S. alliance with South Korea. At the time of the election, about two-thirds of South Koreans wanted Biden to win. Therefore, it is needless to say that the relations between the two countries will improve during his tenure.

Trump called for an ideological fight against Communist China on every front. This is proof that his administration had nothing to do with diplomatic reality. It is true that China is a headache for many in Southeast Asia, but it has not been an ideological threat for decades. Indonesia believes that the region's biggest priority is to help China overcome the epidemic and seek economic recovery where China can act as a driving force for growth. Indonesia wants to welcome the U.S. presence. So neither side wants to resort. That's why Indonesia recently rejected a proposal to set up a U.S. spy base in the country.

Under Trump, the guardianship of multilateralism suddenly and unexpectedly falls on the shoulders of the European Union. The Europeans hope that now after Biden’s victory, this responsibility to be shared. They also hope that after rejoining the Paris agreement, the United States will abandon its attempts to weaken the World Trade Organization and revive the Iran nuclear deal. Needless to say, Biden also talked about doing these things.

From a strategic point of view, the main goal of the European Union is to ensure that no one can drag Europe into the Sino-U.S. hegemony. The EU wants to be a little tougher on China. However, the EU may not support Biden if he chooses the path of conflict. Trump weakened NATO. Biden won’t do that, but he will push for NATO allies to invest more money behind their respective armed forces. 

Two-thirds of NATO members did not spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Germany hopes that even if Biden talks of spending more money on the armed forces of NATO member states, the message will not be accompanied by the threat of imposing tariffs on German vehicles. Germany further hopes that the dispute between the allies will be resolved in silence, not on Twitter.

France hopes that the United States will take renewed steps to address regional conflicts that could jeopardize Europe's security, from Turkish expansionism in the Eastern Mediterranean to instability in Lebanon and Libya. Both Germany and France are relieved that the end of Trump's drive to divide Europe is imminent. Yet there is a strong belief in European capitals that even under Obama, Europe began to slip out of America's sight. America is essential, but the world has also changed. France now wants Europe to do more for itself and differently. French President Emmanuel Macron has an ambitious plan to build "strategic autonomy" in Europe. Biden's team would need to make it clear that the plan is not aimed at pushing NATO aside.

With Biden elected, Britain hopes to conclude a trade agreement with the United States to offset the damage caused by Brexit and to exert global influence through its special relationship with the superpower. However, Biden hinted that if Britain imposed new restrictions on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it would have to forget about such a trade deal. Note that Biden himself is of Irish descent. But Britain will probably lose the role of a bridge between the United States and Europe.

Reviving the Iran nuclear deal will not be easy. Most Republicans and some Democrats in the United States oppose the deal. In that case, Biden could lift some sanctions and then try to negotiate a deal. Israel and the (Persian) Gulf states want the agreement to be stricter than the original 2015 version. It should limit Iran's ballistic missile program and possibly Iran's support for militant (resistance) groups. If Iran does not comply with such conditions, then America's Middle East (West Asia) allies will call on Biden to maintain sanctions on Iran.

Trump has had remarkable success in persuading Arab countries to recognize Israel. There will be pressure on Biden to continue that policy. Palestinians will expect Biden to reverse Trump's hostile approaches, such as shutting down their diplomatic missions in Washington and reducing aid. Nevertheless, they may not be able to persuade Biden to return to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, the U.S.-recognized capital of Israel. 

The populists, dictators, and extremist nationalists who are in power in countries around the world were quite comfortable under Trump. They were also supporters of Trump and wanted him to win the election. These countries now have to deal with a U.S. president who has different priorities in his foreign policy. Even Biden had previously announced that he wanted to hold a worldwide conference on the Road to Democracy, a year after taking office, which could be a kind of red signal for all dictatorial and fascist governments especially Arab regimes in West Asia. If this is effective, the authoritarian regimes must seek a new policy and seek reforms to convince the Biden administration.

Regarding immigration issues, it is expected that during new administration, U.S. immigration policy to be relaxed. Under Trump, this policy was being applied very harshly. Needless to say, immigrants will get some benefits from that. The announcement of new jobs in the United States during Biden's tenure is expected to turn the tide of the economy. Biden also must keep a close eye on racism that has resurfaced under Trump. Education, peace, democracy, these three expectations are higher than Biden. Now let's see how far the implementation goes with the expectation. 

 *Rakib Al Hasan is an author, activist, and youth leader from Bangladesh.

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