Four months to the US Presidential Election 2020, the race is becoming increasingly heated. With candidate from each party has been slimmed into one, the battle for the seat to become the most powerful person, arguably, in the world is becoming more fierce.
Donald Trump, throughout his four year of presidency, has shaped American foreign policy, and the world, in a way that no previous American president has ever done. On the other hand, Joe Biden, a career politician with experience in the legislature (in foreign affairs committee) and eight years experience as a VP, is expected to bring back confidence of the world to America.
But, what the next American president can do, really, to fix American foreign policy, and most importantly, the world?
#1 Return to Asia-Pacific
America’s “Pivot to Asia” under Obama is a perfect move in the 21st century — where China is getting more prominence in the world. This policy entails the initiative to build the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement spanning from Peru to Singapore consisting 11 members, as well as America’s opposition to the creation of China-led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB). However, when Trump took over in 2017, the first move that he took was for America to pull out of TPP.
The job for the next American president is to rejoin the TPP. The number two priority would be for the president to push all ASEAN members to join TPP — by allowing countries whose progress lag that of other TPP members some concessions to follow the standard some years later.
The TPP architecture is not a sole initiative. Obama also pushed for the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Under the Trump administration, this architecture also crumbled. Even the European Union, America’s counterpart in working on a TTIP, ruled that the negotiation on TTIP was obsolete. The next American president needs to fix this too. America should resurrect TTIP. This is important because Europe has become increasingly close to China. By resurrecting TTIP, Europe will have options not to only depend its trade on China, but also to the US too.
Besides TPP — or what is currently known as Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), there is a competing architecture known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This agreement includes all ASEAN members plus New Zealand, Australia, India, China, Japan, and South Korea. America needs to push for a membership in RCEP to balance China.
In addition, America should embrace China in CPTPP, as CPTPP is known to be high-standard. And embracing China in CPTPP would require China to upgrade its standard and therefore open the door for China to the American-led world trade order.
#2 Rethink Indo-Pacific
Donald Trump has been pushing for an Indo-Pacific strategy — an Indo-Pacific region that “updates” the Asia-Pacific region. If the next president is to continue this Indo-Pacific strategy, then the Indo-Pacific region should not be a militarized region.
This Indo-Pacific region should be based on cooperation. One of them is through trade cooperation. Therefore, the next president should strengthen the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The US has the most interest to keep APEC relevant — and to make ASEAN at the heart of APEC. Therefore, America needs to support the membership of all ASEAN members in APEC, and to push for the revocation of the membership moratorium in APEC. The membership of India is also of America’s interest. Therefore, pushing for India’s membership in APEC should really be mulled over. There is no need, however, to change the name of APEC to become Indo-Pacific Economic Cooperation (IPEC).
Also, the next president should really reconsider its approach to a militarized Indo-Pacific under the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) scheme. Will US-Australia-India-Japan military axis in the Indo-Pacific region yield the expected outcome? Or will it only further jeopardize America’s interest in the region — as it further antagonizes China?
#3 Rethink International Law
America has the biggest interest in keeping the region stable. The South China Sea is a case in point. The US has been advocating for free passage in the sea. However, America does not accede to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). How can America be a reliable player in world (maritime) politics if America does not recognize this international law? By abiding to UNCLOS, America will have an upper hand in voicing the concern of America’s partners in Southeast Asia like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Myanmar — especially in endorsing the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling.
#4 Rethink International Organization
Only in the course of four years, America under Donald Trump has pulled out of the TPP, the Paris Agreement (on Climate Change), Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) — and most strikingly, a number of United Nations (UN) bodies. Those bodies are UNESCO, UNHRC, and WHO. More interestingly, now four out of 15 UN specialized agencies are headed by Chinese nationals — while only one is headed by an American. This is unfortunate given that the UN was built by the US, supported by the US, and funded by the US. The US also holds an unrivaled seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a permanent member with a veto power — a power that is only bestowed to other four UN members; Russia, China, UK, and France.
A post-Trump America needs to do a rethinking in its approach to International Organizations and International Agreements. The US built the post-World War II world order under what we now know as the Bretton Woods institutions. The US president after Trump needs to save America, by rejuvenating American approach to these institutions, including the UN. To put it shortly, the US needs to reclaim the UN.
#5 Prepare to be Number Two
As of now, Chinese economy, despite being number two only to the US globally, is already comparable to that of the US. China will soon surpass the US in terms of economy — despite the big chance that it will tail US a bit later in military terms. The US needs to acknowledge this reality, and embrace it. America needs to learn how to be number two — or at least how to co-exist with another superpower.
It is understandable that America is very comfortable with its position — given the fact that it has held this position since we can remember (the end of the World War II). Even the Soviet Union did not rival America in economic term. China will soon surpass the US, and in order to survive, the US needs to learn how to co-exist.
China’s economy surpassing the US will not mean the end of the world. US will still have the military primacy. US dollar will still be around for the next god knows decade as the global currency. And if done right, America’s position in International Relations will not change much — it will still be the leader of the world, as long as it can be a reliable partner to much of the world. And even when China tries to surpass it, America’s primacy will stay for the decades to come. One important note, the next US president needs to do his homework.