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Wed Jan 20, 2021, 10:20 PM

Putting out Trump's Asia dumpster fires starts at home

Asia to Joe Biden: You had us at "hello."

This region is no pushover. But after four long, torturous years dealing with Donald Trump, the bar for the new U.S. president is remarkably low.

Biden will score points just by knowing the name of the leader on the phone, where he or she is on a map, and being even vaguely conversant with the bilateral issues of the day -- rather than the shakedown tactics of some low-rent mafia don wannabe.

I wish this were hyperbole. But Asian leaders generally could not be happier that a measured, experienced leader who is not a China-obsessed Twitter troll is on-site to address the dumpster fire Trump leaves behind.

Yet Biden's real Asia policy begins at home. Sure, Biden will call Yoshihide Suga to remind Japan it has a partner, not a bullying overlord, in the White House. He is sure to phone South Korea's Moon Jae-in to reboot relations between Washington and Seoul. Biden will be having many such smoothing-things-over chats around the region -- from Indonesia to India.

There will be outreach to China's Xi Jinping. Political constraints at home make it hard for Biden to undo Trump's trade war in short order. But expect Biden to lay the groundwork for a less abusive and counterproductive relationship with an economy that could top America's by 2028.

The best thing Biden can do for Asia, though, is halt the deterioration of the world's biggest power. That means, first and foremost, taming COVID-19. As China, South Korea and Taiwan have shown, beating the pandemic is a necessary precondition for economic recovery. Biden also should give vaccine diplomacy a try, offering affordable, no-strings-attached access to the developing world.

Biden will not run America as if it were a family business, Trump-style, like some modern-day Ferdinand Marcos. Biden must remind Asia that America has values. Out of the gate, he must get back in the business of championing transparency, labor and environmental standards, human rights and the sanctity of international institutions. Rather than coddle Kim Jong Un -- and exchange love letters -- Biden's team must work with Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing to curb North Korea.


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