This story first appeared on TheStreet.com.
Asian stock markets are breathing a sigh of relief on Monday, now that the result of the U.S. presidential election is clear. It’s a sea of green for Asian indexes on my screen.
Trade-heavy markets in particular such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea are seeing their stocks climb higher in hopes that Biden will take a less-confrontational, more-constructive approach on trade.
The U.S. dollar is also losing ground. The Chinese yuan is hitting a 28-month peak, the Korean won is climbing to its highest level since February 2019, and the Singapore dollar is rising to its highest level so far this year.
The Indonesian rupiah, which in March weakened to levels last seen during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998, is also gaining ground. Investors look willing to take on more risk now that the U.S. election has passed, with emerging markets prime beneficiaries.
The Nikkei 225 in Japan is Asia’s biggest gainer on Monday, traditional Japanese industrial companies seeing their shares rise 2.1%, although the broad Topix index of all major stocks in Japan finished with a more-muted 1.4% advance.
The other major gains came for the CSI 300 of the largest stocks in Shanghai and Shenzhen, which ended up 2.0%, with the Stock Exchange of Thailand index also finishing up 2.0%.
Some of the response is simply a relief rally with the uncertainty of the U.S. election now behind markets. But Asian economies are expected to gain ground with Biden likely to de-escalate tensions on trade, while U.S. monetary policy is set to expand stimulus and therefore weaken the U.S. dollar.
Trump’s very first action on taking office was to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP, a bid to create the world’s largest trade bloc, subsumed bilateral negotiations between the United States and Japan. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expended considerable political capital getting the influential Japanese farming lobby to agree to the deal, only to be left jilted at the altar by Trump, an ally he had courted immediately upon Trump’s successful election.
Abe’s successor, Yoshihide Suga, will now engage with Trump’s successor. It will be interesting to see the future direction of the “Quad” alliance that has brought together Japan, the United States, India and Australia, with the unstated aim of containing China’s rising influence in Asia.
Biden may now seek to join the TPP’s successor, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the remaining 11 nations agreed. Biden has certainly pledged, on his first day, to sign the United States back up to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Biden may be more effective in building diplomatic alliances, whereas Trump alienated many traditional U.S. allies. Australian shares had their best session since the virus-related downturn in March, the S&P/ASX 200 ending up 1.8% and the NZX 50 in New Zealand finishing with a 1.8% gain as well.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have yet to reach out to congratulate Biden on his victory. Trump had also expressed admiration for other authoritarian strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the Saudi Arabian king and crown prince, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. As of Monday afternoon Asian time, all those leaders have stayed silent on Biden’s election. It has been a useful exercise for anti-democratic regimes to point to the “chaos” of the U.S. electoral process as a way of bolstering their own governance.
The state-owned Global Times mouthpiece used to push Beijing’s foreign-policy agenda says in an editorial that Biden may go further in pushing China on human rights over the pro-democracy crackdown in Hong Kong and the concentration camps for Uighur Muslim minority citizens built in the western province of Xinjiang.
At the same time, the state-owned paper says it may be possible to pop the “bubbles” of pressure created by outgoing President Donald Trump in the election campaign. “Beijing should undertake to communicate with the Biden team as thoroughly as it can, making greater joint efforts to recover China-U.S. relations to a state of great predictability,” the editorial states.
Trump was bipolar on China, saying that he and Chinese counterpart Xi “love each other,” but equally using China as a convenient, little-known and far-off foe, to drum up votes. He was right to push China on the origins of the coronavirus, which had the central Chinese city of Wuhan as its epicenter. China has done its very best to stop efforts to examine just how the outbreak began, undermining efforts by the World Health Organization to present impartial evidence, and blocking efforts to send WHO scientists to Wuhan itself.
It is hard to imagine that Biden administration will act “tougher” over China, the Global Times states, though the Democratic Party is “more stubborn about values.” Biden is highly likely to continue the “maximum pressure” campaign of his administration, only “probably not with reckless gambling-style moves,” the editorial states.
India is cheering the election of Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother’s family trace their roots to southern Tamil Nadu province. Half-Indian, half-Jamaican by parentage, Harris visited India frequently in her youth. While she will surely seek to bolster India’s position as an American ally, she may also push right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his treatment of non-Hindu citizens, and human rights. The Sensex main stock index in India was up 1.4% in afternoon trade.
Here in Hong Kong as well as in Taiwan, we will wait to see how Biden approaches diplomacy over our efforts to maintain autonomy in the face of pressure from Beijing.
Taiwan, a Democratic nation that has put in place one of the world’s most-effective programs to combat the coronavirus, remains blocked by mainland China from joining the World Health Assembly and the WHO. Taiwan’s foreign ministry says it has been excluded from a World Health Assembly meeting that starts today and runs all week on instructions from China. The WHO’s exclusion of Taiwan is purely on political and not on public-health grounds, undermining the group’s whole mission.
Trump accepted a call of congratulation from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen after he won election, an unprecedented move. It is not clear if Biden will do the same. As Taiwanese lawmakers fret that Biden will be more China-friendly, the head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, Chen Ming-tong, has told them there’s “no need to worry,” that while the White House’s tactics may change toward China, “there will be no change in its China strategy.”