So close were crucial contests that Joe Biden waited four days to be confirmed as the winner of Tuesday’s United States presidential election. That and his opponents’ claims to be victims of cheating and fraud, and their threats of legal action, already define his presidency. The country is so deeply divided that at times the two sides seem irreconcilable. Its leader-elect knows the wounds must heal if the nation is to move forward. History may therefore come to judge him by performance of his pledge to be a president “who seeks not to divide but to unify”. The US remains a great power, but it has been diminished and dispirited at home by mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic, and abroad by the debilitating disengagement of the ill-conceived America-first policy. President Donald Trump’s administration has been in denial in its response to the coronavirus. Biden focused on this issue and stayed on message throughout the campaign. He must double down on it now with his newly acquired standing. He will have plenty of other challenges at home that will have high priority, such as a US$3.1 trillion budget deficit and crumbling infrastructure. Nonetheless, after four years of international withdrawal under Trump, the US is now expected to re-engage with the world and with global institutions. Asian leaders see renewed hope in Biden and return to multilateralism Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris climate-change agreement from day one after his inauguration in January. None of this means an end to American rivalry with China. Democrats and Republicans have agreed that China is America’s main strategic rival. But a Biden administration can be expected to pursue more constructive diplomacy, putting greater emphasis on re-engagement with US allies and international institutions. That said, there is a question mark over how much power Biden will wield while the balance in the US Senate remains uncertain. If it remains under Republican control, he will find it difficult to get much of what he wants done. Two seats in Georgia are too close to call and will be rerun on January 5. Biden’s speech focused not only on healing a divided nation but also on reclaiming America’s role on the world stage – “we lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example”. Even though Biden’s Democratic Party might not control the Senate, putting a brake on his power, a big part of the US presidency is symbolic. It’s about how he uses his influence, his words; not just about hard policies. In many people’s minds, Trump was a step backwards in this respect. Hopefully Biden can reverse that. He made a good start with a victory speech that appealed to sentiments that unite Americans.