Experts' Comments

U.S. Policies Under the Biden Administration: What Kind of World Order Awaits Us?

EPC | 20 Dec 2020

U.S. Policies Under the Biden Administration: What Kind of World Order Awaits Us?

The 2020 American Presidential election was a milestone. The intense competition between the candidates added more excitement to this event and made the world watch its outcome closely. By announcing the victory of the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, the focus was shifted towards the formation of his administration awaiting cautiously the domestic and foreign policies of the new American administration. The 7th Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, which was held November 9-11, 2020 with the participation of a number of strategic experts and distinguished world researchers, discussed in details in one of its panels the potential consequences of the outcomes of US elections on international order and rising powers, especially China. The following are key conclusions presented by participating experts on this issue.

Kishore Mahbubani

Kishore Mahbubani

We can argue that most world countries are happy for electing Joe Biden as US President. The four years of President Donald Trump’s era were exhausting for a large number of world countries as a result of their efforts to cope with Trump’s inconsistent policies.

Biden’s election came at a time when the US is suffering from an internal crisis and problems in its political system. Therefore, his administration will face a number of internal challenges, notably dealing with the health and economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for the new American administration’s policy towards China – the key competitor for the US at the global level- management of relations with Beijing will be the biggest challenge for the Biden administration at the foreign policy level. There are three structural factors that push the Democratic administration to continue the competitive policy with China. These factors are: Historically, the first power in international order clashes with the rising power; a bipartisan consensus in the US that China will not be a democratic country like the US; and the third factor is a moral one related to China’s role in the Coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, there are reasons that push the American administration to cooperate with Beijing, notably their joint confrontation of the Coronavirus pandemic and dealing with other global challenges such as climate change.     

It is likely that the Biden administration will continue the competitive policy with China, albeit less intense than the Trump administration. It is important, however, that the two countries find means for understanding and agreement to prevent competition from getting out of control. In this sense, I think if Biden rejoins the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes 15 countries, this will be a game-changer in South-East Asia region because it will bring back American influence in the region in face of China’s influence. It is important that Washington focusses on economic, not military, presence in the region because it is more feasible and effective.

Although China is looking to play a global role, it does not seek to replace the US. China is also not a revisionist country now or in the coming two decades at least. It is ironic that China believes that as long as Washington is involved in world affairs and the Middle East, in particular, this represents a gift to Beijing.


Kishore Mahbubani is a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Cliff Kupchan

Cliff Kupchan

First of all, we cannot ignore that the US is internally divided and suffers from an internal crisis. Dealing with this crisis poses a challenge to the Biden administration. The question is: Can President-elect Biden overcome the American internal division, deal with the Coronavirus crisis and renew American power?

I do not think that the arrival of Biden to the White House will change the rules of the international game. I think Biden will be a weak president with tied hands due to the Republican majority in the US Senate. Biden will also be a one-term president due to his old age. The issue that raises concern and came up during Trump’s presidency and might continue in the future, is the credibility of the US. Trump has turned his back to international commitments and agreements signed by his predecessor Barack Obama. The question is: what will happen to agreements which Biden will sign after he leaves office. More than 71 million Americans have voted for Trump, which means Trumpism still exists in the US.

While President-elect Biden is likely to follow a foreign policy approach different from that of his predecessor, will be more involved in global affairs and more cooperative with U.S allies and build bridges with other world powers, we should bear in mind that Biden is not an idealist but rather a political realist. It is quite true that the U.S is the most powerful nation globally in military and economic fields, as well as, in soft power domain, multilateralism has never been obvious in the world than today. There is a fierce competition now between the United States and China particularly in economic area and undoubtedly Beijing breathed a sigh of relief following the election of Biden. China can still reach understandings with the White House despite the competition between the two global powers.

As far as the US-Russian relations is concerned, they were not good at all in the past period of time particularly given the differences between the two sides over several issues including the conflict in Ukraine, the alleged Russian intervention in the U.S Presidential elections of 2016, and attempts by the Russian regime to assassinate opposition members. Obviously, the Biden administration will continue its confrontation with Russia and the relationship between the two countries will be tense. The Biden administration might impose more sanctions on Russian leaders, especially with Biden’s team already adopting a tough stand towards Moscow. This, however, does not mean the point of estrangement between the two countries.


Cliff Kupchan, Chairperson of Eurasia Group.

Richard Fontaine

Richard Fontaine

U.S elections proved that a large segment (47%) of American people is not satisfied with Washington’s policies and economic performance. President-elect Joe Biden will face the tough challenge of shaping policies that appeal to a half of the people in the U.S even though he pledged to bring the country together. He will have a difficult time in restoring harmony to controversial policies such as trade, immigration and taxes. The first priority for the Biden administration will be dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic by adopting a different approach to the crisis.

It is worth to note here that even though most of Biden’s team has been involved in the Obama’s administration, it is unlikely that the tendencies of both administrations will be identical. The Biden administration realizes that the world has changed over the past four years as well as the positions of countries. Therefore, we will likely see differences in the way both administrations run their own business.

In foreign policy, the Biden administration will adopt a different approach from that of President Trump and go back to the multilateral approach and global commitments such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, and reintroduce Washington’s contribution in World Health Organization. It will try to fix the damage Trump caused in the U.S relations with NATO and other European allies. Biden may deliver on his promise of hosting a conference for world democratic leaders to discuss and find ways to face global challenges.

However, the priority of American foreign policy during Biden’s era will be dealing with China, although Biden’s team is divided over the way to deal with Beijing and whether it should be a cooperative competition or mere competition. While the Biden administration may backtrack on the unilateral measures taken by the Trump administration towards China in terms of trade tariffs, competition will dominate over the relationship between the two countries due to the current controversial issues between Beijing and Washington including technology transfer as an example.

Even though China supports stability and wishes to keep some aspects of the global order, it continues its endeavors to enhance its influence in South East Asia. Recently, it has been noted that Beijing has stretched its muscles and has taken an aggressive stance on multiple fronts, entering into violent border clash with India, escalating border dispute with Japan and tensions with Australia and tightening its grip on Hong Kong.

While multilateralism sounds such an appealing notion, and while Biden’s administration is likely to support this tendency, it is not the only solution to the problems of the global order and to the challenges the world is facing now. Multilateralism does not necessarily mean that the Biden administration will go to the United Nations and U.N Security Council to solve crises and resolve conflicts with other powers, and let’s remember that the UN Security Council has not yet been able to issue one statement on Covid-19 pandemic because of the U.S-China competition.


Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security in Washington.