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‘Biden to invest in multilateral ASEAN dialogs’

Ernest Bower, president and CEO of Bower Group Asia, said the election of Joe Biden as the new US president would continue to highlight the need for multilateral dialogues to resolve the issue over the South China Sea.

“Expect the Biden administration to reinvest in Asian architecture, particularly ASEAN-based architecture and structures for economic security and cooperation such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN-US Summit and related fora that are not necessarily ASEAN-centric like APEC,” Bower said.

 “Then you can see less bottlenecking and a more policy-based approach, more predictable outcomes. Also expect to see a great new US ambassador sent to Manila, along the lines of the traditional highly-experienced career officers or someone who may have left the State Department as a senior officer under the Trump administration and who may be called back to the ranks of the State Department, but expect a well-connected pro to succeed who has left Manila and been moved to Jakarta.” 

“It’ll be a question of how Asia wants to engage in those issues, but I think we’ll make progress. It could cause some pain points in the bilateral relationship, particularly with the Duterte administration, but I think that’ll be well-managed by a good ambassador, and the Philippines will experience some issues around human rights around the drug war in the Philippines and other issues such as the freedom of the press.”

“Look for progress in issues and sectors such as healthcare, technology cooperation, digital trade, cloud computing and data management.”

Bower said he expected the Biden administration to renew the alliances with its Asian partners. 

“The Biden team will invest in renewing its five treaty alliances in Asia, and Biden’s team believes that these relationships have been, in many cases, badly damaged, and those bonds with Australia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Thailand will be at the top of the list for Biden’s Asia team as they focus on the list of repairing the damage done by four years of very transactional, very ideological policy,” he said.

“If the Philippines is willing, now or after 2022, Biden and the US will look for chances to expand investment in security cooperation, economic partnership and deepening our strong ties across sectors.”

Bower said this would include the preservation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines.

“I expect continuity and more careful diplomacy on the South China Sea,” he said. 

“I think that the US—China relationship will remain very confrontational, rhetoric, and characterized by competition, but that rhetoric will be lowered. I expect the Biden administration to be less aggressive on Taiwan, more forward-leaning on Hong Kong, the Uighurs, Zhenjiang, continuity on the tough policy in the South China Sea with much more emphasis on ASEAN and a return to a much higher level of engagement with treaty allies.”

Stratbase ADR Institute president Dindo Manhit said: “Middle-power countries should realize that even if the US presence in the Indo-Pacific is crucial to ensure a rules-based order, the region’s future should not be dictated by or charted under a unipolar hegemony.

“As the region’s political landscape continues to evolve, there is a crucial need for middle powers to recognize their role and the importance of creating a network of like-minded states to protect and maintain an open and multipolar Indo-Pacific region.

“The current global disorder, with the rise of evolving security threats in both traditional and non-traditional spaces, demands that the region utilize effective mini-lateral collaborations among strategic partners and allies.”

The South China Sea will remain a crucial issue between the United States and China in the coming years with the election of Biden as the new US president, according to regional policy experts.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Asia-Pacific policy expert Ernest Bower made these comments during the virtual Pilipinas Conference organized by Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute on Nov. 25, 2020.

Lorenzana said the two biggest challenges faced by the Asia-Pacific region at the moment were the coronavirus pandemic and the regional security surrounding the South China Sea.

“While the US and China continue to assert that their actions are defensive, the fear of miscalculation is ever present like the near collision of two frigates belonging to the US and China two years ago,” he said.

“The recent decision of China and its government to arm its Coast Guard and patrolling vessels in the South China Sea has up the ante even more. And if ever a shooting war happens, the Philippines which is right smack in the middle of the conflict will be involved whether she likes it or not.”

Topics: Ernest Bower , Bower Group Asia , US President Joe Biden , South China Sea
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