Patron: Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand

Initial predictions on what a Biden-led U.S. will mean for New Zealand and Asia

By Dr Anita Perkins

On Friday, a new set of Ministers was sworn in at Government House in New Zealand. In the background, over several days, a rollercoaster of everchanging results on the United States elections was coming in. Finally, at the end of the weekend, media declared Democrat Joe Biden the President-Elect and Kamala Harris as Vice-President-Elect.

The pendulum of history has swung back in favour of Democrats. At the same time, new ground has been broken with Senator Harris who is of Indian and Jamaican heritage, becoming the first woman Vice President. Meanwhile, President Trump contests the declaration of the democrats winning the vote through the court system.

Entering a complex international arena

Together, against a backdrop of intense domestic and international polarisation, and a global pandemic with grave economic implications, Biden and Harris inherit some of the most complex domestic and international economic and social issues any leaders of the United States have ever had to grapple with. Initial indications are that they are set to undo much of the policies President Trump has established over the last four years. So, what might this mean for the Asia Pacific Region? Here are a few predictions from our Prime Minister and media commentators.

Implications for New Zealand foreign policy and trade

Recently re-elected Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden sees positive outcomes from the incoming changes in U.S. leadership. She notes that foreign policy all boils down to relationships and Biden has a very warm relationship with New Zealand, as indicated during his July 2016 visit. At the time Biden said: “the most important connection between our nations has always been our people.  Americans and Kiwis are cut from the same cloth – fiercely independent and tenacious.”

Ardern anticipates advantages for global cooperation if the U.S. reengages on international issues such as the Paris Accord and the World Trade Organisation. Journalist David Cohen also predicts positive changes in the WTO, but possibly a tougher road for the U.S. on free trade agreements: “The president-elect’s options for resurrecting the abandoned Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that New Zealand leaders made much of, say, may not be all that great, as are his prospects for fully mending the Sino-American trade relationship that crumpled on the watch his rambunctious predecessor.”

U.S. relations with China and India under the new administration

Miyeon Oh, director of the Asia Security Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security believes that the world will be watching for Biden to provide direction on his stance toward China. “President-elect Biden should present a clear goal, strategy, and roadmap for his China policy as soon as he is inaugurated in order to build political consensus not only with Congress, but also with like-minded countries. While the Biden campaign emphasized the importance of alliances and multilateralism in order to restore US global leadership and democracy, US allies and partners will want to know how a Biden administration’s China policy will fit into his overarching goals.”

This would not appear to be the case for how the new administration will relate to countries across Asia, however. With regard to India, however, journalist Michael Kugelman thinks that the outcome of the U.S. election should not be overestimated. While “Democrats are more willing than Republicans to call out India on human rights and religious freedom concerns” Kugelman is of the view that  the “U.S.-India partnership transcends partisan issues like elections, and endures regardless of the government of the day.”


Interview with Jacinda Ardern on the incoming U.S. administration and what it means for New Zealand:

Remarks by Biden during 2016 visit:

What are New Zealand’s trade prospects under the new US presidency?

Joe Biden just won the presidency: What does that mean for America’s role in the world?

Don’t Overestimate The US Election Impact On South Asia