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What Will a U.S. President Biden Mean for the Philippines?

What happens if America regains its 'soul' from Trump?
by Ara Eugenio
Nov 4, 2020
Photo/s: Joe Biden/Facebook
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Four more years of "America First" or will "America's Soul" be restored? Election night in the U.S. ended in a cliffhanger with both President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, claiming victory. The incumbent even threatened to contest the results of the vote count in court.

While other government's arguably rank higher on Washington's foreign policy sphere (China, Russia), the U.S. factors heavily in Philippine diplomacy. The two are bound by a decades-old mutual defense treaty. Whatever the results of the election will have a lasting impact on local affairs, according to analysts.

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To see what four more years of Trump will be like, look back at the last four years, said Aries Arugay, a political science professor at UP Diliman. 

When the real estate mogul and reality TV star defeated Hillary Clinton, he touted "America First" and signaled a transactional approach to foreign policy. This distanced long-time ally the Philippines, which in turn pivoted to China and Russia, Arugay told reportr. These dynamics will remain if Trump is reelected.

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What will a President Biden be like?

Biden, who is projecting a calm alternative to Trump's bombast, will shake things up, as if "adults take over," said Benjamin Muego, another political science professor and long-time observer of PH-American relations.

"If Biden wins the presidency, expect the real experts, real knowledgeable people who know Asia, particularly the Philippines, to once again be put in charge. They would bring into position not only experience and insight but real honest to goodness knowledge about the country," he said.

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"In one word, a Biden presidency would "restore" PH-American relations into a professional, sound, and intelligent basis. Not transactional," Muego told reportr. 

How will adults in the White House change things?

Biden and the Democrats will be "less tolerant" on how the Philippines handles human rights, UP political scientist Arugay said. Party leaders have spoken out about press freedom and the drug war.

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When Trump wages a trade war against China and blames it for the spread of the coronavirus. Biden is expected to take a multilateral approach, calling on allies to counter Beijing's rising influence, he said.

If and when Biden puts pressure on China, the Philippines will need to clarify its alliances. "It cannot be in America’s good graces and China’s at the same time," Arugay said. 

"Everything is frozen" in the world because of COVID-19 and China's allies have begun to realize that they could not rely on Beijing for everything, Arugay said.

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It will make sense for Manila to warm up to Washington because of its vaccine resources, he said. The Philippines ambassador to the U.S. has lined up to American-made vaccines while President Rodrigo Duterte has publicly expressed preference for China and Russian-made vaccines.

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Still, U.S. foreign policy is "complicated" and traditional alliances don't guarantee access to the vaccine, Arugay said. Biden, after all, is handling one of the world's worst COVID-19 outbreaks.

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