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Continuity, Change At Stake In US Election

Continuity, Change At Stake In US Election
A combination of Associated Press file photos shows former US vice president Joe Biden (left) speaking in Wilmington, Delaware on March 12, 2020 and US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. 

Before he left his post in Manila, the United States ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, gave firm assurance to his Filipino friends that whoever wins in the Nov. 3 US presidential election, the Philippines will remain as Washington's trusted partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Nothing will change, Kim stressed, adding that Washington would even increase its military and development assistance to help strengthen an ally's capability to stand up against China.

For many decades, Manila has been receiving billions of dollars in economic, social and security assistance from its former colonial master and long-time military ally.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the US has provided more assistance to the Philippines than any other country, including China, which has emerged as Washington's chief rival in the region.

Thus, the Philippines has a bigger stake in the outcome of the US presidential election a week from now. Whether there will be continuity or change, Manila hopes for closer relations with one of its largest trading partners and source of military hardware.

The whole world is also closely watching the results of the election as it will determine the future of US policy, which affects security, the economy and social life of many nations.

Washington's four years of isolation and economic protectionism will either continue under President Donald Trump or will change under challenger Joe Biden as political analysts say the political contest has tightened after the second and final debate last week.

Independent polls show the Democratic party standard-bearer Biden ahead by double digits in the popular vote, but the Republican Trump might pull another surprise if hewins in the electoral college – a repeat of the 2016 elections.

A Southeast Asian diplomat said some countries in the region are hoping Trump will be reelected as this could put more pressure on China to behave as a responsible member of the international community by respecting international laws as well as the arbitral ruling in the South China Sea.

In the Philippines, local political and security analysts are divided on how the outcome of the US election would impact on the domestic political and security aspects.

Victor Andres "Dindo" Manhit, managing director of the Stratbase group and head of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies at the Albert del Rosario Institute, said a Biden victory will not mean "a return to the old normal" ties between the two allies due to the increasing multi-polarity of the region.

"It assures a stronger US commitment in the region and its partners and allies," Manhit believes. "It goes towardeconomic, security, humanitarian aid, climate change and other emerging security threats that the Philippines would greatly benefit in."

On the other hand, a Trump reelection, Manhit noted, could further destabilize the region especially if "he continues to ignore the multi-polar nature of the region."

"A Trump presidency with his too America-centric policies and deteriorating domestic stability may further middle powers such as Japan, Australia, India and Southeast Asia to strengthen minilateral collaborations to minimize negative impacts caused by the US-China strategic competition," he explained.

"However, with the further decline of trust and confidence in US leadership under a Trump presidency," Manhit said "it will massively increase insecurity among states because it would be seen as a strategic opportunity for hostile states and non-state actors to act."

Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) and an international studies lecturer at Miriam College, shared a similar opinion that a Trump reelection would worsen the rivalry between Washington and Beijing.

"It will reaffirm America's hawkish and isolationist positions that could place major regional allies in a tight position as Washington continues to encourage allies and partners to take sides against Beijing," he said.

Banlaoi thinks Biden can reverse Trump's damaging policies, such as the trade war with China and isolationism, but warned it could affect Washington's relations with the government of President Duterte.

"Biden's stress on human rights and the rule of law can generate political pressure on the Duterte government as his allies in the US Senate could pursue democratic reforms (in the Philippines) in order to access US economic and military aid and defense technology," Banlaoi said.

Some US senators have called on the Trump administration to withhold and cut military and economic aid to the Philippines due to the rise in the killings related to Duterte's war on drugs and efforts to end the communist rebellion.

Manhit believes both Trump and Biden will "seek to foster ties with Indo-Pacific partners, but it will largely depend on the manner of doing so."

"Biden will be more diplomatic while Trump will be more of a strongman approach. However, the foreign policy of the Duterte administration will play a huge role in how much it will engage with the US, whether it's Trump or Biden," Manhit said.

For the Philippines, there are some good as well as adverse impacts of its relations with the US regardless of whoever wins the election.

In either scenario, the Philippines must strategically expand its defense and economic networks, Manhit stressed, asputting its eggs in one basket would be a mistake.

As the Philippines awaits the outcome of the US balloting, the promise made by Kim before he left for the US has been reassuring.