New Delhi: US President-elect Joe Biden’s decision to name Antony J. Blinken as the next Secretary of State is being seen as a positive move for India, which sees him as a “strong interlocutor” for New Delhi as it aims to build on strategic gains made under the Donald Trump administration.
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Considered to be Biden’s ‘alter ego’, former deputy secretary of state Blinken is expected to continue maintaining the strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific, keeping an eye on checking Chinese aggression in the region, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
“Blinken knows India very well. He has been a very strong interlocutor for us in the past and we believe we can work closely with him in taking our mutual strategic objectives forward,” a top official who did not want to be identified told ThePrint.
The sources also said Blinken’s nomination brings a “solid assurance” that he will ardently follow his boss’ approach on giving “high priority to India”, which will put India-US strategic ties on a “steady path”.
Indo-Pacific, Quad and the China challenge
Blinken had stated in August, in an address to the Indian-American community in the run-up to the elections, that an “increasingly assertive” China is a “common challenge”, referring to Beijing’s “aggression toward India at the Line of Actual Control.”
The sources said while the Biden administration’s focus on leveraging the partnership with India at the level of the ‘Quad’ is likely to come at a later stage, work on the Indo-Pacific and attempts to get more countries under the framework will begin immediately.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, told ThePrint: “Blinken, like his boss, is a strong proponent of partnership with New Delhi — and this has been his position for years. In this regard, he will pick up where the Trump administration leaves off, and he will be prepared to build on the momentum that the relationship has enjoyed over the last few years.”
Blinken — who was national security advisor to the Vice-President when Biden held the post, then deputy national security advisor to President Barack Obama, and then deputy secretary of state — had said in July this year that under the Obama administration, approval was sought from the US Congress to make India a major defence partner.
“We made India a so-called major defence partner. That was something that we got the Congress to approve and that was unique to India. What that did is it basically ensured that when it comes to advance sensitive technology that India needs to strengthen its military, it’s treated on par with our allies and partners,” he said in an address at the Hudson Institute.
Navtej Sarna, former Indian ambassador to the US said the Biden administration would be more system-oriented and predictable than Trump’s.
“The usual, conventional avenues for engagement and dialogue between countries will be in place. Having said that, it is also true that the strategic gains that were made by India under the Donald Trump administration will continue to hold; issues such as the Indo-Pacific and Quadrilateral Security Dialogue are very much in US interests,” Sarna told ThePrint.
“There will also be adherence to defence arrangements and agreements signed. We may see changes in tone regarding China, but basic strategic convergence on that issue should be maintained,” he continued.
“Apart from the strategic convergences, there will be new priority areas including cooperation in pharma, vaccines and so on. Climate change will be another area on which there can be good resonance,” Sarna added.
‘Not much positive for Pakistan’
According to sources, Blinken is known for his “zero-tolerance” on terrorism, and that cross-border terrorism in South Asia is a concern for him, which is “not going to be positive news” for Pakistan.
As Biden’s NSA, Blinken had played an instrumental role when the Obama administration led a mission against Osama Bin Laden and killed him at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. Thus, his appointment as Secretary of State-elect is being seen as a continuation of all those strong actions against terrorism.
While Blinken has expressed concerns about India “cracking down on freedom of movement and freedom of speech in Kashmir” and called it a “challenge”, sources believe that the Biden administration will not be too lenient on Pakistan.