Joe Biden’s Asia agenda unlikely to change even as midterm election gives House to Republicans
- Without control of both the House and Senate, Republicans will struggle to push Biden further to the right on China-related policies
- Clear, sustained positions from Republicans could be difficult given internal divisions over policy and whether to support Donald Trump’s run for president
Easing the rhetoric is certainly welcome. That will, at a minimum, delay talk of potential war over Taiwan that had become a not-uncommon topic in US and China circles.
That is if a Republican-controlled House doesn’t decide to raise Taiwan’s stature through potential legislation. They are likely to make a show of it, but without Senate control it is unlikely they will make much headway. They could have pushed their agenda much further along had they won a sizeable majority in the Senate, even overriding a presidential veto, but they did not have the votes.
It would not be the first time that high-level dialogue promised better ties only to be thwarted later at the secretarial, ministerial and even working levels of diplomatic exchange. The outcome of the midterm election changes none of this.
Despite claiming that he was responsible for most of the Republican midterm wins, there is a great tide of Republican reckoning with the damage created by Trump for losses in this year’s election.
The push and pull over US Asia policy will play out against this political backdrop. Some newly elected House Republicans will try to curry favour with Trump and push his previous agenda, while others will create distance and take a more moderate approach. Either way, Republicans will try to thwart every Biden initiative and score whatever political points they can, much like they did during President Barack Obama’s second term.
There will be little discernible effect of the midterms on the larger issues concerning the White House and National Security Council, including North Korean missile threats, a hard line on economic and trade relations with China, sustained military cooperation with a widening set of Indo-Pacific nations and so on.
None of that rises to the level of altering White House policy towards China or Asia. The inherent political balance of powers leaves foreign policy to the executive branch, and that has not changed with this midterm outcome.
Brian P. Klein is founder of RidgePoint | Global, a strategic advisory firm. He is a former US diplomat