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How will US-China-PH ties be under Biden? An economist weighs in

As the US will inaugurate Joe Biden as its new president next year, questions on whether how his international strategies will differ from that of outgoing president Donald Trump. 

Biden served as Vice President of the Unites States under Barack Obama. He has a significantly different platform than that of Trump, and these differences have caused bitter divisions within and outside the US. 

Yukon Huang, who holds a doctorate in economics from Princeton University and is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, weighed in on the implications of the Biden win in an online event entitled 2020 US Elections and the Implications for US-China-Philippines Relations last November 10, 2020. 

Dr. Yukon Huang. Image from China Daily

A strict but less isolationist strategy

As a background, according to Huang, China four years ago favored Trump. 

“Four years ago, mainland China favored Trump. They didn’t really like the democrats. They thought they could deal with Trump,” said Huang. “Today it’s more divided. There are some in Beijing who still prefer a republican winning over a democrat because I think the democrats’ policies regarding ideology, human rights, [and] democracy might be more pressed by a Biden presidency compared to a Trump presidency.”

In his term, Trump has showed a particularly tough stance on China. That’s despite the fact that he has had a more isolationist policy, focusing on American workers and American interests as President of the United States.

Biden “will strive for what I call a more ‘internationalist’ kind of view of the world, bringing people together… I think he will immediately rejoin [the] WHO (World Health Organization).”

But Biden, as a democrat, may also press the issue of human rights and democracy on China. This reflects the shared democrat-republican negative sentiment towards China. Huang said, “Pew surveys show that about 70% of Americans have a strongly negative view of China. That compares with about 30%, 40% 10 years ago. And this means that democrats are unlikely to come into or formulate policies which are going to be seen as pro-China.”

Still, Huang said, there will still be a difference in approach. Biden will “be much more interested in negotiating, he’ll be much more interested in finding alliances… he’ll be less combative.”

“But he’ll also have to be, what I would call, remain relatively tough on China’ because general sentiments are pretty negative.”

Donald Trump and Joe Biden have engaged in a divisive bitter clash against each other. Images from The Independent

How the Philippines will come into play

The Philippines has been an ally of the US for decades, and Filipinos overwhelmingly have a more positive view towards them compared to China. 

“I think the US is going to basically continue its policy of trying to establish or maintain a strong presence in the region. And I think two key issues will continue to be concerns… and that is the South China Sea, which the Filipinos have a strong interest, and the so-called China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, building infrastructure and greater links with countries in Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, all the way to Europe, and these are areas which are concerned in US establishment,” said Huang. 

These “will be sources of what I call ‘continued tensions in the future’.”

Given all these, the US will reach out more to the Philippines and to the larger ASEAN community in general. This will likely infuriate Beijing more. Capitals like Manila, Bangkok, Hanoi, and the like will be reached out to by the US in “what I call more tension from a Biden administration. ASEAN will probably play a little bit more of a stronger political role. In my view, that will also cause China to think a little but more about how it can deal in a more cooperative way with ASEAN,” said Huang. 


How understanding and the good of all parties can be promoted

Other panelists in the online event included prominent Chinese-Filipino businessmen Dioceldo Sy and George Siy. Anna Mae Lamentillo, Chairperson for the ‘Build, Build, Build’ Committee also participated. 

Sy talked about the importance of having resource speakers like Huang to give such events. He also talked about the importance of awareness.

“Obviously we need more inputs or advice from speaker[s] like Yukon to make us more aware of what’s really happening out there,” said Sy. “We can also share all the thoughts to our policymakers that something should be done, something should be noted of, and should be adapted…”

Siy echoed that sentiment. “I think events like this today is very important and useful because there are so many misleading news going around,” said Siy. He said that the media also ought to “not entirely focus so much and maybe too much on politics and a lot more on how we can improve.”

Lamentillo talked about looking at everything from a multi-perspective point of view including what would truly benefit the Philippines. “It needs to examine what are the economic and political options at the table,” said Lamentillo. Simply dismissing options and points of view do not help either in the long-run and towards dialogue. 

Watch the full discussion here:


The author of this article: 

An accomplished young Chinese Filipino writer and media personality, Aaron S. Medina is associated with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program, the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, and CHiNOY TV. He has a passion for truth, justice, and Pokémon, too! Follow him on Facebook:

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