Academics are warning the government to prepare for a new relationship with the US as the Biden administration likely focuses its trading partners more on human rights, the promotion of democracy and environmental issues.
As Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president on Wednesday, he declared: “We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” Indeed, world leaders were swift to say how much they were looking forward to working with him.
His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also sent the new president congratulatory messages on Thursday.
The United States’ ambassador to Thailand, Michael George DeSombre, has resigned from his post now that the Donald Trump administration has ended.
Prior to the swearing-in of Joe Biden as US president on Wednesday, Mr DeSombre wrote: “It has been a privilege serving as the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand.
Many observers are expecting more open and multilateralist policies but Thai academics and activists said such opportunities come with concerns. “Improving the state of the economy that has been hit hard by the pandemic will be one of Mr Biden’s top priorities,” said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.
“The US now has trade deficits with many countries, including Thailand, and it will try to fix that. Therefore, we might see some Thai products lose their trade benefits.
“The US could use human rights, the promotion of democracy and the environment, which are big issues in Thailand right now, to justify its actions.”
Assoc Prof Panitan said while the trade war between US and China could ease under a Biden administration, it would not go away as China still poses a threat to US economic and political hegemony.
“Thailand needs to carefully strike a balance between the two,” he said.
Assoc Prof Panitan said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Commerce and security agencies need to work closely together to expand Thai-US diplomatic, security and commercial relations.
“Thailand needs to recalibrate its policy towards the US with clearer objectives. We must unify our team when it comes to negotiations,” he said.
Asst Prof Prapee Apichatsakol, of the Department of Political Science, Srinakharinwirot University, Vice President of the American Studies Association in Thailand, agreed, saying the US might be more open to restoring close ties with its allies in Asia. With this would come opportunities, but also conditions.
“If Mr Biden returns to policies similar to the [Barack] Obama administration, which emphasised multilateralism and preserving human rights and the environment, coming back as the leader of the world with his ‘America is back’ slogan, he might need to quickly come and put things into order,” she said.
“It’s important to set our strategy well. We have to be careful in our relations with the US. We have to adjust.
“Democracy, human rights, intellectual property and labour — they [the US] will set high standards. Can we meet them?”