Although President Trump has not conceded the U.S. presidential election, and is mounting multiple legal challenges, former Vice President Joseph Biden already has begun planning for the transition. While Biden was not focused on Southeast Asia as his time as vice president, he probably has more extensive foreign policy experience than any incoming president in decades, save perhaps George H. W. Bush. In addition, his policy team includes a deep bench of Asia experts, including several with extensive experience in Southeast Asia.
Still, Southeast Asia is one region where a Biden administration’s approach might not be as sharply different from that of his predecessor as in some other areas, like Europe, where the differences between a president who disdains NATO and a Biden administration will be stark. While perhaps less openly confrontational with China than some in the Trump White House have been, leading Democratic Party policymakers have become much more distrustful, and much more assertive, in their views toward China as well. At the same time, a Biden administration probably will recognize that, in order to pursue a tough approach to China, the United States cannot afford to alienate critical partners in Southeast Asia, the way the Trump administration has done. It also probably will reinvest in some diminished areas of U.S. power, from diplomacy to a focus on nontraditional security, that will appeal to Southeast Asian states. For more on how a Biden administration might approach Southeast Asia, see my new World Politics Review article.