Author: Dr. Thamil Venthan Ananthavinayagan | Lecturer in International Law- Griffith College
With the presumed victory of Joe Biden in the presidential elections, will this translate into a rekindled hegemonic approach and expansion of the US in Asia? While many ask if Joe Biden is about to follow the path of his former president, Barack Obama, the more crucial question for Asia is not if hegemony will come or leave, rather: what will be the impact of US hegemony on the Asian continent?
Obama and his pivot
As it was written by one author in this outlet three years ago, the foreign policy strategy shift towards Asia was ill-founded, as there had been already greater (in his view successful) US involvement on various fronts on the continent. In fact, this is true and solely affirms the point of the author: the US has an imminent interest to leave no loophole of international ordering in its nitty-gritty foreign policy approach in Asia. The long battle over the Chagos Islands it testimony to such. In this vein, Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History?” predicted the spread of liberal democracy, market liberalisation and globalisation – the three pillars of foreign policy stratification of Western states to entrench their visions of international law and international cooperation. Against this background, Obama’s foreign policy strategy was certainly not new. It focused on the Asia Pacific to meet the challenges and remain an upper-hand and portray itself as the saviour of liberal democracy and protector of human rights. A similar approach away from the Middle East to Asia was undertaken already by US president Dwight Eisenhower with his ‘military-industrial complex’ to deploy forces on Asian continent, as this would enable to control and maintain US hegemony.
Renowned scholar Anthony Anghie writes in a recent article that: ‘Consequently overlooked was the profound underlying shift that had been made to the international order, as new forms of imperialism instantiated and expanded themselves and, most importantly, became normalized. Endless war, a war without spatial or temporal limitations, that could be launched pre-emptively and globally seemed to have become accepted. And the practices of Empire of course are not confined by any means to Western states.’
It is true, for this reason, that non-Western states are attempting to recreate Empire in Asia. One might think of China, but the same goes for India and Japan. Smaller countries in Asia are suffering the bitter consequences of the new hegemonies on the continent, such as Nepal, Sri Lanka or Bhutan. The Asian allies of the Trump administration gave grown fond of Trump’s tough stand against China, while Trump and Modi found commonality in religious and ethnic purity in their domestic politics. With regard to this, Trump allies are uncomfortable with the incoming Biden administration claiming espoused liberal imperialism. Nonetheless, experts and observers are also demanding for a Pivot 2.0 foreign policy strategy under a Biden administration.
Joe Biden, in fact, is a restorationist. He wants to return to the Obama foreign policy and shift the geopolitical focus to Asia – this endeavour is not a product of compassion, but realpolitik: confronting China follows the rationale as ‘Schutzmacht’ for smaller Asian countries. It derives, moreover, from the strategy concept of the current Trump administration. This ‘United States Strategy for Central Asia 2019-2025: Advancing Sovereignty and Economic Prosperity’ follows the line of US American policy of facing adversaries in regions. US administrations will use the pretext of domestic sovereignties of Asian countries to further and expand US influence which will, in the present case, contain the threat posed by the Chinese by using the language of human rights as the Trojan horse for free markets. The common prosperity will eventually benefit the US hegemonic enterprise. A Biden administration will be the continuation of the Trump administration in Asia, as hegemony wishes to contain threats to their exceptionalism through Obama restoration.
Return to normality was the normality for Western hegemony
One academic commentator holds that there will be normality and relief for allies of the US, as the shared set of values will adjust in the formulation of common foreign policy goals. The same author ascertains further: ‘The global institutions that the US built to stabilise international order and advance its interests are in a parlous state, and not only because of the attacks of the Trump presidency.’ But the same institutions helped to pave the rise of the US to the imperial force of the 21st century, as the US will ‘continue acting as supporter and guarantor of the architecture on which the internationalization of capital was based over the last four decades, and that has tremendously benefited a good portion of the U.S. capitalist class.’
One commentator wrote more than 18 years ago: ‘International order used to be based either on hegemony or on balance. Hegemony came first. In the ancient world, order meant empire. Those within the empire had order, culture and civilisation. Outside it lay barbarians, chaos and disorder. The image of peace and order through a single hegemonic power centre has remained strong ever since.’ The incoming Biden administration, in consequence, will thrive on US exceptionalism, the vessel to propound an ideology regardless of political affiliation: imperialism.