President-elect Joe Biden (right) and VP-elect Kamala Harris
So much was said in president-elect Joe Biden’s first speech, his hope high to unify the nation after a bitter campaign against incumbent President Donald Trump who has thus far refused to concede defeat in the bruising race.
“Folks, the people of this nation have spoken,” Biden said on an outdoor stage at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, as a crowd, with many people watching from inside their cars, honked and cheered approval.
Biden was addressing a deeply divided nation, turning to the challenges ahead by grounding his victory speech in the spirit of compromise, asking supporters of Trump to give him a chance, and calling on all Americans to turn the page from what he described as a “grim era of demonization.”
While making his plea for unity and understanding in his hometown, allies from round the world, including the Philippines, were listening as he stood, his feet and mind at the ready, for challenges that will confront his presidency, including issues left by his predecessor who, some political analysts say, may accept defeat but will never concede.
With particular importance for the Philippines is how Biden will engage this country, whose President Rodrigo Duterte pivoted towards China, and rise to the challenge in the disputed South China Sea as well as concerns by Southeast Asian countries with overlapping claims in the region.
This week, President Duterte, addressing fellow Southeast Asian leaders, talked tough on the international arbitral ruling against China in 2016, telling his allies during the 37th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, the determination by the Hague court as regards the disputed South China sea “cannot be diminished nor ignored.”
The ruling, which invoked the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, “is now part of international law,” Duterte said via video conference in the Summit, attended by leaders from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The 75-year-old Duterte, whose six-year term ends on June 30, 2022, said: “Its significance cannot be diminished nor ignored by any country, however big and powerful.”
Beijing claims about 80 percent of the sea, including parts of the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines and fellow ASEAN members Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Taiwan also has partial claims.
Duterte told fellow ASEAN leaders: “We must, therefore, remain united. We must show that we are masters of our region’s destiny and that we can work together to achieve shared aspirations and solve common problems.”
He added: “As I have said before, the South China Sea issue is ASEAN’s strategic challenge. How we deal with this matter lays bare our strengths and weaknesses as a community. We must act with haste,” he added.
Political observers are saying the 77-year-old Biden will not soften Washington’s stance on South China Sea.
While his administration will be more civil than Trump’s, Washington will continue freedom of navigation operations in the disputed waterway.
We note that Biden has over the years become increasingly critical of Beijing, calling President Xi Jinping a ‘thug’ and attacking China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Some analysts say China, on the other hand, expects less changeableness but tough relations under Biden, although it hopes ties will be more predictable despite hardline approach.
A senator for 36 years and a vice-president for eight, Biden has the experience and authority that his predecessor Trump lacks.
His record of deal-making, from helping pass an assault weapons ban while Senate judiciary committee chairman to negotiating Ukrainian ceasefires and budget deals as vice-president, shows a bipartisanship lacking in the Trump White House.
As Biden appealed for unity, he repeated his promise that he would seek to unify rather than divide. He pledged to govern by the creed that he does not see blue states and red states, but only the United States.
The 77-year-old former vice president, the oldest in US political history to be elected chief of state, acknowledged that the American voters had “delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for we the people. We won with the most votes ever cast on a presidential ticket in the history of the nation, 74 million.”
At 69 years, 349 days of age at the time of his first inauguration, Ronald Reagan was the oldest person to assume the US presidency, a distinction he held until 2017, when Trump was inaugurated at age 70 years, 220 days.
We have more than two months, during what should well be the transition to Biden’s inauguration on Jan 20, 2021, to see how the 46th president of the United States will address the challenges at home and abroad. (iam)