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by Rizal Hamdan 10th November 2020

Joe Biden by Micheal Stokes.jpg

pix by Micheal Stokes

ON Nov 3, Americans went to the polls to elect their next president. After a month of tiresome campaigning, the United States presidential election reached its peak, when a projected 161 million voters cast their votes to determine which candidate was the most capable of taking the helm of the world's superpower.

US foreign policy priorities have become one of the most sensitive topics throughout the campaign. Although Joe Biden has outlined his foreign policy outlook, people are wondering, is the US capable of counter weighting China's growing assertive foreign policy? Will it be constructive and engaging, or stay insular in its approach?

For the past four years under Donald Trump's presidency, the US had nothing to be proud of when it came to foreign policy achievements. One of his first foreign policy decisions was to set a powder keg on fire by officially recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Afterwards, he abruptly interrupted the Israel-Palestine peace talks, and hostility between the two parties escalated. Another foreign policy blunder made by Trump's administration was the US' attitude on climate change. On June 1, 2017, Trump announced the US' intention to cease all participation in the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change.

For the record, the US represents around 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the context of Asia Pacific, it was clear: Trump was not concerned about the US' strategic interests concerning the South China Sea.

As such, Washington only issued an official statement concerning the world's busiest shipping route on July 13 this year, when Trump's term as president was almost reaching an end. Nonetheless, China's strategic engagement in the South China Sea saw other claimants like the Philippines adopting a friendlier approach towards Beijing.

The US foreign policy has become insular and ambiguous. The outbreak of Covid-19 has seen Washington failing to offer adequate assistance to the global south countries. Although US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has developed the vaccine, which is currently in its trial stages, Washington showed no interest in helping distribute it overseas.

On the other hand, China, through its charm-offensive tactics, has offered Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos a spot on the priority list for its brand of vaccine. For Malaysia, the newly elected US president may provide hope in bolstering bilateral relations between Kuala Lumpur and Washington, which have been lukewarm for the past four years.

Historically, the US was responsible for the global decline of tin and rubber prices. In the 1980s, the General Services Administration released its huge stockpile of tin into the world market, causing the price to drop.

Malaysia, back then the world's largest tin producer, was adversely affected by this policy. After almost four decades, both countries were caught in the same situation, when Trump's administration blocked palm oil imports from Malaysian companies due to a baseless accusation of forced labour and sexual abuse. The relationship between both countries went south when China agreed to buy 1.7 million tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia until 2023.

The Trump administration's attitude towards Malaysia was further shown when it was not included in the courtesy visit list during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to the Asia Pacific. The same treatment has been experienced by the US' long-time allies such as Thailand and the Philippines.

The way I see it, the US is gradually losing its friendly states because of insular foreign policies under Trump. Biden has several important duties waiting for him at the White House, one of which is rekindling relations with the country's allies and friendly states worldwide.

After almost four years of a diplomatic slumber, it is time for the US under Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to adopt a constructive and engaging foreign policy. Hopefully, US-Malaysia relations will flourish and thrive under the new leadership.

This article was originally published in The New Straits Times on the 9th of November 2020.

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