The presidential race in the United States between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joseph Biden is moving into its final stretch.

With the polls less than a week away, political pundits weigh in on its possible outcome and what is at stake for the Philippines.

000 8U94BD - US polls: What’s at stake for PH
People hold signs outside of the Metropolitan Multi-Services Center of Montrose in Houston on the last day of early voting October 30, 2020.
(Photo by Julia BENARROUS / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

The country needs to pay attention to two major issues the US would continue to carry beyond November 3 – human rights and China.

Rommel Banlaoi, president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS), said a Trump re-election would bring a continuation to the US-China rivalry, which could pressure the Philippines to take sides.

“If Trump is re-elected, (the US) would reaffirm its hawkish, mercantilist, and isolationist positions. The worsening US-China rivalry will be a harder major foreign policy challenge for the Philippines because we will be put in a taking side dilemma,” he said in the recent virtual Pandesal Forum.

Biden, on the other hand, could reverse the Trump administration’s “damaging” action that resulted in the heated US-China trade war.

While his view of Beijing is “inconsistent” and “ambiguous,” Biden has sought to promote interstate cooperation, open trade, and multilateralism, an approach that could de-escalate current tensions with China should he win the White House, Banlaoi said.

“I think if Biden wins there would be more flexibility and reason compared with Trump because we know the position of the liberals are more accommodating and willing to engage in talks with China, so there would be more rules for settling of political differences,” he said.

The Democratic Party’s emphasis on human rights and the rule of law could, however generate “political pressure” on the Duterte administration, whose campaign against illegal drugs had been criticized by several US lawmakers and then-US president Barack Obama, a Democrat.

“Biden is very strong on human rights. But if they want to put pressure, they lack time already because Duterte’s presidency will expire in 2022,” Banlaoi said.

In a position paper dated October 25, the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI) also posited that the upcoming US election “takes on increasing significance” as the Philippines needs a benign regional geopolitical environment to recover from the pandemic.

“A Trump victory will pose problems for the country as the Philippines will be under increasing pressure to take sides in the rivalry between the two giants. The country might not be able to navigate the neutral path based on the best interests of the country, which allows it to tap the opportunities that both sides offer,” IDSI research fellow Henry Chan wrote.

“In the case of a Biden term, chances of a more subdued belligerence or confrontation will allow the Philippines to focus on economic recovery,” he added.

‘Big impact’

Whoever wins the 2020 US polls, political analyst Ramon Casiple said Washington is likely to focus on the Asia Pacific, including the Philippines, which would be the “center of exposure” in the international arena.

Casiple, also the executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, thinks the US government would take great interest in the upcoming 2022 Philippine elections, given the country’s strategic location in the region.

“It’s the US interest that would be at stake here, so don’t expect that the US will be passive with regard to our electoral process. In fact, I am already anticipating that it will be an issue not only with the embassy but definitely the whole political elite in the US,” he said.

“There is already recognition that our part of the world will be something that both China and the US will be handling or addressing as a relatively important area of contention in the coming year,” he added.

Casiple said the Philippines must be ready to handle the “new world” that is coming, which means it has to be alert on its feet in dealing with “coming relations” rather than rely solely on its old ties.

“We have to be prepared, particularly starting after the US elections, the US will try to come back and try to implement a new series of policies based on its own interest and the situation that has newly arrived in this particular area of the world,” he said.

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