No one can deny the rise of China in the Asia Pacific region and Thailand’s move towards its orbit in the last two decades. However, the shift to a more confrontational policy towards the communist country, begun by US President Donald Trump, will continue under the incoming Biden administration and is likely to present the government in Bangkok, at some point, with testing foreign policy situations. The influence of radical left-leaning activists within the Democratic Party, who helped Biden get to power, may also lead to a more meddlesome US foreign policy when it comes to Thailand based on a new far-left ideology based on racial social justice.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden became President-elect on Monday when the US Electoral College elected him to the office, although the vote must be tabulated and confirmed on January 6th by the combined US Congress sitting in session. Top financial research house, Moodys, sees the incoming Biden administration continuing with Trump’s tariff regime when it comes to China and also suggests that the US may focus more on the Asia Pacific region in terms of security relationships with its key allies including Thailand. This comes amid heightened fears over the future of Taiwan and an increasingly fractious relationship between Communist China and Australia. While many Thai officials have openly welcomed a Biden administration which promises a return to a more multilateral and global international order, there are growing fears also that its activist policies may pose difficulties for Asian countries, most particularly Thailand.
The investor’s service, Moodys, is predicting that the incoming Biden administration will not immediately herald a return to a more globalised world, something that had been hoped for by many concerns in Thailand with extensive links to Chinese supply chains which were severely damaged by the US China trade war which kicked off in early 2019.
Instead, the financial research firm is plumping for a continuation of US President Donald Trump’s hawkish stance on China and strong efforts to strengthen existing American alliances in the Asia Pacific region.
Longer-term movement towards China’s influence in the region cannot be countered by the US
Moodys feels, however, that any such effort from Washington is not likely to succeed in the longer term, a view already quietly conceded by successive governments in Bangkok.
‘We do not expect the Biden administration to result in major changes in Asia credit, with any renewed pivot likely to run up against the reality of longer-term shifts underway that are increasing China’s centrality to the region,’ said Mr Nishad Majmudar, a senior Moodys analyst and Vice President on Monday.
Further and perhaps more troubling clashes with Beijing as Western Chinese relations have declined
Instead, the new Biden Presidency may create further clashes with Beijing by aligning itself with the European Union in driving a more ideological agenda based on human rights and climate change.
While the new White House, according to Moodys, is expected, at first, to attempt to create areas of cooperation with China, it sees a greater emphasis on rebuilding the transatlantic alliance with the European Union leading to a combined effort to counter China’s expansive posture when it comes to trade as well as its increasing belligerence.
The relationship between China and the western world has deteriorated sharply in the last twelve months and this is not just linked with the devastating emergence of the coronavirus in Wuhan earlier this year.
Highly charged spat between Australia and China
China has become more assertive particularly when it is questioned or challenged.
This has led to an increasingly contentious relationship with Australia which, at the end of November, reacted with fury when Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian in Beijing tweeted a fake photo of an Australian serviceman purportedly beheading an Afghan child.
That episode provoked an enraged response from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who described it as ‘truly offensive’ and ‘repugnant’.
The ongoing controversy saw another Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, last week, referring to the treatment in the United States of native Indians linked to criticism of the communists country’s treatment of millions of Uigurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang where millions are reported to have been incarcerated in reeducation camps as part of a government programme which Chinese officials still vehemently deny.
Biden as President will not soothe rising tensions
Moodys does not see this fractious relationship between China and western partners immediately healing itself with the inauguration of Joe Biden in Washington DC on January 20th 2021.
‘We expect Biden’s multilateral approach towards China will not stop ongoing structural shifts, including the restricting of supply chains and consolidation of the global economy into three distinct blocs, with potential negative credit effects for multinationals and export-oriented companies,’ says Mr Majmudar.
Thailand openly admits closer ties with China
For Thailand, the country now openly admits that, despite its strong security alliance with the United States, the kingdom has moved closer into China’s sphere of influence in the last two decades and particularly since General Prayut came into power.
This movement has been essentially economic, but in recent years, there has also been an outward explosion of culture and propaganda from China across Asian countries and most especially Thailand.
This has seen the population of both countries share popular TV shows and films while online, through social media, a steady stream of Chinese news is disseminated in Thai from agencies in Beijing such as Xinhua.
Fears that the United States, prodded by the Democratic Party, which has moved to the left of the political spectrum, may pressurise Thailand over the ongoing ‘progressive’ anti-government protests are well-founded and were brought to the fore by the recent draft resolution put before the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee by nine prominent US senators including Bangkok born, Senator Tammy Duckworth from Illinois, a rising political star in America.
More activism with an emphasis on climate change which could present Asian economies with a bill
It is also feared that a greater emphasis on activism from the new administration may see pressure on Asian countries concerning issues such as climate change which could come at great expense.
However, analysts also believe that the United States will carry on the policy of strengthening the security alliances with countries in the region such as Thailand against a renewed Chinese military threat.
This is likely to see overtures to Bangkok and the ASEAN group of 10 nations on thorny disputes such as that of South China Sea shipping lanes and islands as well as the future of the Mekong River which is increasingly controlled and dominated by Chinese dam projects in Laos and upriver into southern China.
Real fears over Taiwan
The biggest issue, which could emerge during the next four years, is Taiwan.
Real concern over the island state’s position is growing with a growing threat of a Chinese onslaught on what China holds to be a renegade province, being seen as something that can no longer be ruled out.
The incoming US Biden Presidency will also be cognizant of the growing controversy that has arisen over the business links of his son, Hunter Biden, with accusations from conservatives and Trump supporters about Chinese influence within the Democratic Party.
Hunter Biden, this week, confirmed that he was the subject of an FBI investigation.
Thai officials still likely to welcome Biden
Despite all this, in the corridors of power in Bangkok, there is still likely to be greater welcome for a new Biden administration than a second Trump term simply because of the unpredictability of the last fours years under Trump and the likelihood of a more disciplined and multilateral approach from the new regime in Washington as Thailand seeks, as always, to delicately and politely balance its position between the two key powers.