Old pawns in challenging new game

Editorial | Mary Ma 25 Nov 2020

However reluctantly, Donald Trump had no choice but to agree to start the power transition process as states continued certifying votes for a Joe Biden presidency.

Two names in Biden's future cabinet stand out in particular.

If confirmed by the Senate, his former aide Antony Blinken will replace Trump's Mike Pompeo as the next secretary of state.

Also, if nominated and confirmed, former Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen will take over from Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary.

Of all the posts, these two are the most crucial and of great concern to the world during peacetime. So, what kind of difference are they going to make?

Immediately, tension with China could stop worsening and the US relationship with Europe will improve given that Blinken is a major Europeanist.

In 2016, the year Trump won the presidential election, Blinken said that alienating the US from friends and allies would not make Americans safe, saying: "The world is safer for the American people when we have friends, partners and allies."

It is rather easy to identify the allies. But who are the friends and partners? That could be tricky to define.

Biden has declared that Russia is still the No 1 enemy on his list. But his European allies may now see it differently after watching how Russian strongman Vladimir Putin was unable to help his cronies in Armenia winning in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict that led to a truce pact with terms embarrassing to the Armenians.

Since Putin's surprising defeat in this part of Eurasia, NATO leaders have started paying greater attention to the East.

Instead of convincing his European allies to refocus on Europe, will Blinken be persuaded to pay equal attention to China when his allies have been granting refuge to asylum seekers from Hong Kong and opening their doors to immigrants from the SAR?

If that is an uncertainty, a more likely scenario is that Blinken - an old pawn from the days of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama - may have to keep kicking the can down the road.

With control of the Senate hanging in the balance pending further votes in Georgia in January, Blinken's hands might not be free to do what he wants.

Even if the Biden administration manages to lift sanctions on Chinese companies, this will be a slow process - although it is certain that there will not be any new additions to the sanction lists that Biden will inherit from Trump.

Yellen is another old pawn, dating even further back than Blinken.

Her single term at the Federal Reserve may have overshadowed her past public service, including a role as a top economic adviser to former president Bill Clinton.

Widely considered a dove, this characteristic will most likely be mirrored in future fiscal policies.

Maybe the greatest uncertainty facing the new administration is the Senate. With the Republicans already having won 50 of the 100 seats, they will control the Senate if they get one more in January.

Then the Biden administration will immediately become a lame duck.



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