Expats welcome Biden's victory

Expats welcome Biden's victory

Four years of Donald Trump was more than enough for many Americans who now call Thailand home

Expats celebrate the victory of US President-elect Joe Biden at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT). Thana Boonlert
Expats celebrate the victory of US President-elect Joe Biden at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT). Thana Boonlert

After four turbulent years under US president Donald Trump, American expatriates in Bangkok are saying the victory of president-elect Joe Biden promises to bring back some "normality" to their lives.

At the age of 78, Mr Biden, who has been a politician in Washington DC since 1973 and served as vice-president under Barack Obama from 2009-2017, will be the oldest person to become president in American history when he takes office in January next year.

US media organisations say Mr Biden has won 306 votes in the electoral college, against 232 votes for Mr Trump.

However, Mr Trump -- who has yet to concede defeat -- made a speech in which he obliquely referred to the election without saying anything about his rival. Instead, he said he had launched lawsuits in a number of key states and made unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

In contrast, in his first victory speech, Mr Biden asked those who did not vote for him to "give each other a chance", vowing "not to divide, but to unify" the country and "restore the soul of America".

American expat Gina Seward says the Trump administration has affected her mentally over the past four years because she has had to explain why Americans voted for him in the last election.

"Everywhere I go, I have had to say that I don't want Donald Trump," she told the Bangkok Post at the Democrats' Abroad Party at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT). About 120 foreigners, mostly Americans, joined the event to celebrate Mr Biden's victory.

While Mr Biden wasn't Ms Seward's first choice -- she said she preferred Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren -- she voted for him because the US political system is dominated by two parties and he seemed to be "more sensible" than his opponent.

"Biden has been working for the government for over 40 years now. I can't imagine how civil servants [in the US] felt, having to work for a person who doesn't know anything about government procedures and the rule of law," she said, referring to Mr Trump.

Ms Seward hoped Mr Biden's win would improve people's attitude towards American expats.

Andrew Frank, an American expat who hasn't been able to return to his home in Malaysia for more than nine months due to the pandemic, echoed those views, saying the Trump administration "destroyed relations with other countries".

"Our allies became our enemies under Trump. He has soured our relations with them while embracing relations with dictatorial regimes around the world," he said.

Like Ms Seward, Mr Frank said he wasn't a fan of Mr Biden or his policies but voted for him to get Mr Trump out of office.

"I wanted Bernie Sanders to be the [Democrats] nominee. I believe Sanders' progressive policies will be far more beneficial to Americans," he added.

Mr Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, said he had advocated for a green new deal, universal healthcare, free college education and the doubling of federal minimum wage.

He said Mr Biden's victory meant that "we get our sanity back", adding he feels "less embarrassed to tell people I come from America".

A Bangkok-based Thai-US writer, Jae Bhandhukravi, shared that view, adding she hoped to see Mr Biden take on environmental challenges, especially since he had called climate change an existential threat.

"Trump pulled out of the climate accord and looked down on Greta Thunberg. I am not happy with this," she said.

The US presidential election also drew the attention of those outside the American community. Jessica Sankey, a British teacher, said the election gripped the whole world because the shift towards the right was "quite terrifying".

"In my country, we have our own Trump. [Mr Biden's victory] gives me hope that we can get rid of Boris Johnson," said the teacher, who said she often protested against the UK government's right-leaning policies.

While Ms Sankey found Mr Trump's hate speech on the LGBTQ community and minority groups "concerning", she said she felt inspired by Kamala Harris because she will be the first female, first black and first Asian-American US vice-president in history. That was especially important, she said, given that the US had been rocked by the "Black Lives Matter" protests, which erupted following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Over the past four years, Mr Trump has come under scrutiny for his isolationist policy. In contrast, Mr Biden has vowed to protect multilateralism and mend relationships with US allies, for instance, via the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

Charles Ashley, the director of wholesale for APAC and Middle East at Cubic Telecom, said he hoped the US would also rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), after Mr Trump backed off in early 2017.

"Multilateralism will come back. [US] engagement with other governments on free trade and intellectual property will be really good for all of us," he said.

Paul Risley, the chair of Democrats Abroad Thailand, said Mr Biden's presidential victory marked a significant change in US foreign policy direction.

"Under Trump, [multilateralism] was completely missing. He also messed with the North Korean leader [Kim Jong-un] several times. You know this is not good for Asia. I think Biden's approach will be much different, much more multilateralist, and much more about thinking of ways to bridge challenges rather than make them," he said.

Asked about the protracted trade war, Mr Risley said the US had been losing manufacturing jobs to China for more than 30 years, so any incoming president -- be it Mr Obama, Mr Trump or Mr Biden -- must be very concerned.

"There will still be competition and challenges but at the end of the day, the US accepts that China is a strategic partner on a very large scale," he said.

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