Joe Biden will wield more influence if he doesn’t ask for too much
No part of the world matters more to America’s interests than Asia, and no part stands to lose so much from an American retreat: ever since its victory over Japan in the second world war, the United States has underwritten not just Asia’s security but also its remarkable prosperity, based on trade and relatively open markets. America’s standing in the region ought, therefore, to be high. Yet four years of Donald Trump have damaged it—and prompted some Asians to ask how sensible it is to rely on America to uphold the international order in their region.
Mr Trump’s people understood one big thing: that authoritarian China poses a direct challenge not only to American supremacy in the western Pacific but also to the economic order that it has underpinned. The good news is, given China’s pushiness in the South China Sea, its nibbling away at India’s territory in the Himalayas, its belligerence towards Taiwan, its repression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, its reluctance to open its own market and its habit of attaching strings to development aid, none of China’s neighbours wants it to call all the military and economic shots. The bad news is, even with a new American administration in place, it will be difficult to persuade those neighbours to do anything that will rock the boat, given China’s growing clout and America’s diminished standing. In fact, the trick for President Joe Biden will be to restore faith in America without asking Asian countries to take its side openly against China.