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The election of Joseph Biden to hold office as the 46th president of the United States is possibly the best, brightest, boldest and the most benign signal the US could have given. With his running mate Vice-president- designate Kamala Harris, Mr Biden represents a beacon of refreshing hope for not only his great country but for the whole of humankind.
This message of hope is particularly appropriate at this difficult time when almost the whole world has become unhinged in a rather curious and catastrophic sort of way from an established and familiar foundation of peace, stability, solid economic growth and growing social and cultural interaction.
This disruption is largely on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is ironical that while the entire world has achieved almost every form of connectivity with the best communications infrastructure yet vast segments of global society are being repeatedly cautioned to maintain physical distancing at a maximum and reduce social bonhomie to a minimum.
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Most significantly Mr Biden will probably be remembered as the greatest enabler in advancing human rights, equality and equal opportunity in his country’s chequered modern history.
A dozen years ago he was a pivotal part of the process that facilitated the entry of a Black man, President Barack Obama into US presidential office. Now he has enabled a woman, and one of Asian and African heritage, to become the next vice-president of the United States.
This shows a man of empathetic compassion and vision for mankind who is consistently able to transcend the strictures of colour, country-of-origin, class and gender to accept and embrace every American citizen as an equal.
This message of inclusiveness is an exemplary and particularly emblematic one that is pertinent for most countries in the developing world which are divided on the basis of race, religion, region and gender. They are further divided into tribal agglomerations disagreeing on all kinds of trivia. Mr Biden has set a high new threshold that US society has achieved despite the well known divisions and prejudices of the Jim Crow era and the recent past.
Mr Biden also emerges from his long 36-year career as a senator and two-term Vice President as a consummate consensus-builder whose main message since his election has been about unity and healing the divisions in society.
This message again addresses the fresh divisions that the presidential election had generated. It is the clearest indication that fractiousness and factionalism must end with the election and a serious and sustained attempt has to be made to build a governance structure that will address the needs of all US citizens.
Today concerns over the health of people in both the richest and poorest segments of global society have assumed paramount significance. Ironically in some countries the health measures that are being enforced with paramilitary and police assistance are subjecting civilian life to the whims and fancies of these security authorities.
Yet it is impressive that the US was able to hold elections in an acceptable, free, orderly and peaceful manner.￼
Together the Biden-Harris presidency represents a kind of overarching unity that is rarely seen. It embraces not just the majority community but also a rainbow coalition of Whites, native Americans, women, minorities, new immigrants and aspiring citizens of that country.
It is also a momentous time as the world’s power configuration and its structure is changing rapidly. In the last decade a fast developing and formidable China has emerged. China is seen, appreciated and perceived in different ways and Mr Biden has the benefit of observing China from an informed perspective.
China’s emergence has to be accommodated in a sensitive, respectable and respectful way. The US as the traditional leading and colossal superpower since the Second World War would do well to extend to China the hand of friendship that is becoming of a nation with a leadership of rich experience and expertise.
The scourge of a continuing COVID-19 pandemic with all its perverse implications is not only a pressing and humongous challenge but it brought out the lack of both leadership and international cooperation in the global community.
As the world grapples with this pandemic it is timely that there is now a positive signal from Washington that the new Administration will come on board to approach this pandemic both within the World Health Organisation and through other multilateral and bilateral fora.
The incumbent, President Trump who can hold office until the third week of January next year has in his inimitable style attempted to insinuate that the presidential results were somewhat suspect. His supporters are focused on raising some US$60 million in legal fees to challenge the results. Happily this phase will pass quickly, hopefully.
US Foreign Policy
Mr Biden’s message of equality for his compatriots has to be projected and promoted outside of the United States not in a blasé or blunt manner but in a benign behind-the-scenes manner. Related to this status of equality is the equally paramount sovereign equality of all countries in the community of nations.
Since the formation of the United Nations 75 years ago the UN system has been hobbled by the inequality that prevails between nation states. Reform of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council is long overdue. It is time to move on from upholding the outdated status quo of 1945.
The newly independent countries of the post-war world ought to be recognised and reached out to in a more meaningful manner. Africa, Asia and Latin America seem to be underrepresented in decision making by that august body.
At another level there are great expectations in Asia that the Biden era will usher a period of greater engagement with the various regional groupings that have been seeking to build mutual confidence and trust.
ASEAN in particular needs to be egged on to achieve greater people-to-people contact beyond the ceremonial trappings of high summitry and regular ministerial jamborees. It has to move on to becoming a more people-first organisation where there is greater movement across national boundaries and immigration checkpoints.
In East and South Asia
Administration has to follow up on the fitful progress achieved in North Korea. Beyond that the US Administration could assist the process of integrating China and India into the Asian regional architecture so that both these countries can play a positive supportive role in the region.
Mr Biden has an impressive pool of people to draw from both the Democratic Party, the GOP and the numerous think tanks of the US. Given his convivial nature and his long friendships that transcend the political divide he is exceptionally well placed to play a bridging role in achieving consensus on a wide range of controversial issues.
His known friendship with fellow senators such as the late Arlen Sceptre, Rudy Booschwitz, the Murkowskis (both Frank and Lisa), their staffers as well other technocrats and respected scholars within the Beltway places him in a highly advantageous position. Mr Biden will always be remembered as one of Capitol Hill’s most amiable, approachable and accomplished Senators and today the US is richer for that.
Malaysia- US Relations
Malaysia, not unfamiliar territory for Mr Biden is in a unique position to welcome the new president. Late last year the EIU had reported that Malaysia was the most free and democratic country in Southeast Asia, taking third place after the Republic of Korea and Japan.
Early this year in March a new government came into power without going through a proper election and the country’s high democratic credentials have suffered somewhat. But Malaysia remains a solid ally of the US while retaining strong bonds of friendship with the rest of the world. It would be good to have a presidential visit to Malaysia in the next four years to enhance further the excellent bilateral relationship.
Anwar Ibrahim who is familiar to Mr Biden remains a progressive and inclusive political force seeking higher political office from his current perch in parliament as the country’s Opposition leader. His passage to the highest political office continues to be blocked by the Malaysian equivalent of a Senator Strom Thurmond who, like Strom, may live past a hundred!
Dato M Santhananaban is a retired ambassador
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