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America returns to the world stage

The change in the US administration augurs well for the global order as the world looks for direction
Founder and Chairman of Horasis: The Global Visions Community
A bird's eye view of the US Capitol building

On 6 January 2021, the world watched in shock as an unruly mob was egged on by President Donald Trump to “fight like hell” in what would become a siege of the highest seat of the US Congress, resulting in the death of five persons and destruction of public property. Most importantly, it resulted in the loss in reputation globally for the self-professed “greatest democracy in the world”.

Amidst such hubris, to claims of the election being stolen, to baseless accusations being hurled of the elections being fraudulent without evidence, and even attempts at overturning results in a key state caught on a recorded call – the new Biden administration was sworn in on 20 January.

Across the US and around the world, we’ve seen the clear emergence of a theme since the election: “America is back”. This is a welcome sign for the world, which has largely been bereft of any form of global leadership over the past four years, with other countries trying to fill the hole from time to time.

Repairing damage

Within a day of President Biden taking charge, 17 executive orders were signed to reverse some of the most divisive, controversial and unscientific decisions of the Trump administration. This included actions in four broad categories – the pandemic, the economy, immigration and diversity issues, and the environment and climate change. 

That the US is rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and will reengage with the World Health Organization are very encouraging first steps, given the continuing and drastic impact of both climate change and the pandemic on the planet and those living on it. Much remains to be done on both these fronts, and US participation in ways to tackle them is critical.

We have a divided America, a chaotic international order, a raging pandemic, and an economic blowout. The good news for the US and the world is that we have an administration that is willing to engage, and find solutions.

America’s image among friends and allies has suffered immensely in the recent past. Its handling of the pandemic has plummeted its image even further. In fact, in almost every country surveyed, majorities have an unfavourable view of the US. Given the experience of the new administration in international affairs, all eyes are once again back on the US to repair ties, repose faith, and like President Biden said at his inauguration: “We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbours. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”

As the world continues to grapple with economic and health-related uncertainties owing to the pandemic, the hope that nations will engage, deliberate and resolve issues in a cordial way is a welcome change from all the rhetoric of the recent past that came to dominate global geopolitics.

A change of administration in Washington will no doubt come as a shot in the arm for multilateralism. As China looks to stamp its authority as the new champion of globalisation—and indeed even multilateralism—it will be interesting to see how the dynamics between the two powers play out. The trade and tech war has dominated headlines over the past couple of years, and neither country can claim to have benefitted from it. If anything, it has resulted in growing uncertainty among those doing business in the two countries. And although President Biden is unlikely to step back from the pressure placed by his predecessor on China, it is fair to assume that President Biden’s actions will not be unpredictable and likely more predictable in the context of this complex relationship that defines global affairs today.

The handling of the pandemic and the subsequent vaccination drives have shown that unilateral approaches to addressing a global problem of this magnitude can be ineffective. Unilateral travel bans and restrictions on movement, and decisions to ban the exports of essential products showed the lack of leadership afflicting the global community.

Given America’s and its allies’ interests in Asia-Pacific, the world will also be looking at how the US engages with the region. With China’s importance and influence growing in the region, will the US be able to revive its position as a counter-balance to Chinese ambitions? While we find out what will eventually transpire, it is certain that the US will move to engage more deeply with the region.

Across the US and around the world, we’ve seen the clear emergence of a theme since the election: “America is back”. This is a welcome sign for the world, which has largely been bereft of any form of global leadership over the past four years, with other countries trying to fill the hole from time to time.

Dialogue and diplomacy will help ease tensions rather than anger and knee-jerk reactions – and that is the big change the world can expect from the Biden presidency. It is comforting to know that once again global affairs and foreign policy will be conducted in this manner.

The promise of the future

As the world hopes to defeat COVID-19 and its economic fallout, the US and the Biden administration will have a key role to play in how we build back better. While it is no easy task, the initial signs are encouraging. Markets too were optimistic – with share prices rising in the US, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Britain, South Korea and Shanghai in optimism of the new administration’s support to tackle the US economy.

We have a divided America, a chaotic international order, a raging pandemic, and an economic blowout. The good news for the US and the world is that we have an administration that is willing to engage, and find solutions.

The Horasis Extraordinary Meeting on the United States of America will be held on 18 March 2021.

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Founder and Chairman of Horasis: The Global Visions Community

Frank-Jürgen Richter is the founder and chairman of Horasis: The Global Visions Community. He was earlier a director of the World Economic Forum. He has lived, studied and worked in Asia for almost a decade, principally in Tokyo and in Beijing. Mr Richter has also authored and edited a series of books on global strategy and Asian business. His writing has appeared in The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Far Eastern Economic Review, The Straits Times and the South China Morning Post, among others.

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