Biden bodes well for Samoa

He is unlikely to have conceded as much, but Donald Trump has lost the American election.

The victory of former Vice-President Joe Biden represents a repudiation by American voters of an approach to politics the likes of which we have never seen. 

Though it was unveiled over several days that is testament to an election in which COVID-19 changed both for whom people voted but how they did so, with early and postal voting reaching historic levels. 

With more than 74 million votes as of Saturday afternoon local time, Vice President Biden has broken - or rather smashed - the record number of votes garnered by any candidate before him. 

He has already secured five million more votes than his previous running mate, President Obama.

It is impossible to view this as anything other than America’s emphatic repudiation not only of President Trump’s policies but his manners and personal style. 

This idiosyncratic mix emphasised the politics of praise seeking and blame avoidance, debasing the office of the President with name-calling and a relationship with the truth that was, at best, shaky.

It would be a mistake to see in President-elect Biden, who, at 77 years of age is the same age as former President Ronald Reagan was when he retired from politics, as a vehicle for radical change in American politics.

Mr. Biden was one of the youngest ever Senators in the history of the Republic when at 30 years of age, and just shy of half a century ago, he was sworn in as President. 

It was more than 30 years ago that his first run for the Presidency failed to succeed. 

Reports on Saturday of people spontaneously leaning out of their windows and cheering in large cities in America must be seen as applause for the end of Trumpism, not the ushering in of a radical alternative to Government as we have known it. 

But just by virtue of the simple fact that he is not President Trump, one of the most unique people to occupy the Oval Office in history, we can expect some significant changes as a consequence of President-elect Biden’s victory.

These will even be felt as far away as here in the Pacific.

In the last half of the past decade, we have seen an unprecedented escalation in the soft power race between America and her allies and China in the Pacific.

A report from the Australian think tank the Lowy Institute in September showed that aid to Samoa had nearly doubled as a result of this intensification. 

(The World Bank, China, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan are this country’s top five donors for both money spent and money committed for future projects.)

Through its data analysis, the Lowy Institute has shown that in 2018, aid to the Pacific rose more than 25 per cent, reaching an unprecedented US$2.89 billion or roughly 8.5 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product.

But this week we have seen perhaps the most significant signal that the race for soft power is moving towards real hard consequences. 

In American Samoa, it was announced that the Government was constructing a new wharf to better meet the need for fishing and pleasure vessels. 

But that news was preceded by an announcement by Ambassador Robert C. O’Brien, plans for a $5 million study into stationing a fast-response Coast Guard cutter vessel in American Samoa and two others in Guam.

The move was explicitly styled as a means of countering Chinese “aggression” in the Pacific. 

Around the same time, the Chinese Government confirmed that Samoa had asked it for funds to redevelop the Asau Wharf in Savai’i.

The project is solely designed to revive Savai’i’s economy, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Embassy said.

But it has been a long-running and open secret that the construction of a Chinese backed facility in the region has been a worry of the United States and its allies since the end of the Second World War when the strategic value of the vast waters of the Pacific were made clear.

This seeming escalation in tension will ease under a Biden administration. 

As a long-serving member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden undoubtedly understands diplomacy and its nuances. 

President Trump provocatively rejected Chinese claims in the South China Sea and even campaigned on a platform of casting the country as an enemy and one who bore responsibility for the coronavirus (which he more than once derisively called the ‘kung flu’). 

A Biden President would not put an end to the rivalry between Washington and Beijing. But it would be much more likely to resemble the period of relative calm under President Obama than the current occupant of the White House.

A new President would signal a new kind of American diplomacy, one conducted with fewer provocations and more regard and consideration for the real-world impact that words can have. 

The atmosphere of diplomacy in the Pacific will change and become less inflammatory. For that prospect, we can be grateful. 

We are also likely to see in a new President who is a Washington veteran new regard for multilateral institutions for solving problems.

President Trump cut American funding to bodies such as the World Health Organisation and attacked the role of the World Trade Organisation and United Nations alike. 

Mr. Biden, by contrast, is more likely to re-engage with multilateral institutions and that will carry benefits for Samoa, which has benefited from help from such institutions during the measles crisis and the COVID-19 led economic shutdown.

Finally, Mr. Biden is a world away from President Trump on the issue of climate change.

He has declared as a priority for the United States to rejoin the Paris climate change pact - the global agreement for keeping temperature rises to below a catastrophic 1.5 degrees celsius.

Indeed, President Trump’s supporters sought to make hay from some of the pro-environmental remarks President Biden made during the second presidential debate. 

President Trump explicitly asked his rival if he was against fossil fuels, with the obvious goal of seeking to win votes from those employed by the fossil fuel industry. 

Mr. Biden did not mince his words: "I would transition from the oil industry, yes,” he said, "because the oil industry pollutes significantly".

As we have seen in recent days of counting, the old cliche about a week being a long time in politics is true. 

Four years, then, is an epoch. Much could happen during a Biden presidency and much of it is unforeseeable. But there are reasons for Samoa - and the Pacific - to be optimistic. 

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