US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden during the Democratic National Convention at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, on 19 August
File photo of US President-elect Joe Biden | Photo: Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: US President-elect Joe Biden’s “spectacular victory” will certainly impact India as it inches closer to America strategically under the Indo-Pacific set-up and faces a tough challenge from China, while a lot of tasks remain to be accomplished with a new administration.

As America begins to “unite” and “heal”, New Delhi is pinning its hopes on the new US administration to make Biden’s 2020 dream of making India and the US the “two closest nations in the world” come true.

During his address to the Indian Americans on 15 August, Biden had made it clear that if he comes to power, the administration will accord “high priority” to India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in September 2019 had said ‘Abki baar, Trump Sarkar’, tweeted late Saturday, congratulating Biden for his “spectacular victory” and said he “looked forward to working closely” with the new US administration to take the bilateral ties to “greater heights”.

Experts, meanwhile, said India will find a “long-time friend” in Biden, who “will keep the long-term strategic interests” of the India-US relationship in mind.

“Transcending politics and personalities are what the India-US relationship is about. President-elect Biden is understood to have an ambitious vision for our bilateral relationship ‘for decades ahead’ as his aides were quoted as saying in 2013 when he visited India as the vice-president,” Nirupama Menon Rao, former foreign secretary and the first Indian woman Ambassador to China, told ThePrint.

“He (Biden) has always been seen as a steadfast friend, a key ally, of India from his days as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As an institution builder, I believe he will keep the long-term strategic interests of the relationship in mind and he understands the complementarity of these interests and our shared democratic values,” added Rao, who has also served as Ambassador to the US.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at The Wilson Center in Washington, said India is getting a “long-time friend” in Biden.

“With President Biden, New Delhi is getting a long-time friend of India who knows the country very well and is a strong supporter of the US-India partnership. Look for him to build on the momentum in bilateral relations from the Trump years, and also look for him to expand the relationship into areas like climate change and clean energy that were neglected during the Trump years,” he said.


Also read: Looking forward to working closely together, says PM Modi as he congratulates Joe Biden


Impact on China, Pakistan issues

India, which has now taken a stand to align more with the US while standing up against China even as it pushes for a rule-based order under the Indo-Pacific construct with other “like-minded” countries, will need to “explore and invest in a deeper and more meaningful friendship” with Biden, India diplomatic sources told ThePrint.

While Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will make an effort to “put the anger and the harsh rhetoric” of the Trump-era behind, India can definitively expect the duo to continue putting pressure on China while it competes with it in every aspect — from defence, trade and commerce as well as technology, sources said.

Just days before the US Presidential elections took place on 3 November, New Delhi and America held their third round of 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in which both sides signed a key defence pact while sending out strong signals to China and Pakistan.

Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow at the Gateway House, said: “The Biden administration will recognise India’s pivotal position in South Asia, advising her neighbours to live in harmony with New Delhi

“On Pakistan, though, he will be more even-handed, pushing to counter terrorism but forging a close relationship with Islamabad in a bid to weaken its ties with Beijing. Biden’s China policy will be relevant too, but it may take several months to develop clarity, given serious divisions in the Biden camp,” he added.

India and the US have also vowed to make their defence and security ties stronger. Defence trade between the two countries is poised to exceed $20 billion soon while lessening New Delhi’s decades-old dependence on Moscow for purchases of armaments — ranging from guns, lethal drones and fighter-planes, among others.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said: “Biden presidency will maintain positive momentum of India-US ties. He is experienced in foreign policy and knows India and South Asia well. Defence ties will continue to expand. The Pakistan factor will not inhibit this. China factor will be overriding one. Indo- Pacific concept and Quad will preserve momentum.”

India had participated in the last meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad, along with the US, Japan and Australia in October. At present, the four countries are participating in a joint maritime exercise — Malabar 2020 — with the objective to strengthen naval ties with each other.

The first phase of the Malabar ended on 6 November, while the second phase is expected to begin at the end of the month.

Arun Singh, former Indian ambassador to the US, said: “There’s a general sense in the US that China has emerged as a rival in military as well as in the technological field.

“The policies towards China are unlikely to go back to what it used to be in 2014-15. Towards the end of the Obama administration, there was talk of an Asia rebalance or pivot, so the focus will remain.”

Singh also highlighted how in 2001, it was Biden who had written a letter to then US President George Bush to end the sanctions on India. Also, as the ranking member of the US Senate Foreign relations committee in 2008, Biden had piloted the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement through the Senate.

However, according to Sibal, ties with Russia will remain difficult and testing time for India with the supply of the S-400 Triumf missile system in which New Delhi is seeking exemption from sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

On the issue of Afghanistan, Biden is expected to continue where the Barack Obama administration had left off and focus on the withdrawal of US forces while continuing to talk to the Taliban.

“Withdrawal from Afghanistan is now inevitable but he will be tested on talks with Taliban as terrorist violence continues. He has had good relations with Pakistan but in view of the China challenge and growing radicalism there, no material change in policy is likely,” said Sibal.

Kugelman, meanwhile, cautioned that the Biden administration could be “critical of New Delhi about human rights and religious freedom” when it comes to Kashmir and other issues concerning minorities in India.

Singh also said: “There can be some differences of opinion on human rights issues or on specific steps India had taken on Kashmir last year, but the US also has its own challenges.”


Also read: It’s a good thing Biden has an abundance of experience & skills, he’s going to need them


‘India-US FTA unlikely’

Under the Trump administration, trade became a major sticking point in the India-US relationship. While the US came down heavily on countries with which it had a trade deficit, it was also the first time America expressed its intention publicly to have a free trade agreement (FTA) with India.

It was under Trump when India lost trade benefits worth $6 billion under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) for the first time since 1974, and tariffs were imposed on Indian shipments of steel and aluminium under Section 232 of the US Trade Expansion Act of 1962, adversely impacting their exports to the US.

 Over the past year, India and the US have also tried to hammer out a so-called smaller trade deal, addressing some of the immediate market access issues concerning US agriculture, ICT and medical devices issues. 

“India-US FTA will be difficult for some time since Biden has said that he will first focus on reviving the competitiveness of the US economy before considering new trade agreements,” said Singh.

According to Sibal, under the Biden administration, trade deficit issues will not be paramount, but more market access will be demanded.

A Biden administration is also expected to review the mega-trade deal under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), of which Trump had walked out in 2017.

“If TPP is pursued, will RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) be outflanked? Economic ties will grow but will be subject to usual US pressures by USTR. Deficit issues will not be paramount but more market access will be demanded,” added Sibal.

RCEP is another mega-trade pact that is being finalised among 15 countries, that includes the 10 ASEAN members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and their five trade partners — Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. India had walked out of the RCEP talks in November 2019.

An earlier version of the report wrongly stated that former foreign secretary Nirupama Menon Rao was also the first Indian woman Ambassador to the US. The report has been updated to correct the error.


Also read: The job that awaits President Biden


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. “Arun Singh, former Indian ambassador to the US, said: “There’s a general sense in the US that China has emerged as a rival in military as well as in the technological field.” He had left out economic, China is crossing 70% of US GDP threshold.

    Why was “superpower” Hindutva not in US radar? Its either they see no hope in India rise, or awaiting it to reach 70% GDP threshold to kill off, as it did on Jp previously, and now China.

    In either case, India is gladly helping US to sharpen knife that will also slaughter it after China is done.

    Why would US let a potential adversary grow when it can nipped at bud after its usefulness expired like used condom?

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