Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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Trump or Biden — who is better for India? The answer lies in a 14-year-old dream

From being vocal about CAA, Kashmir & climate change, the Democratic Presidential canditate’s approach towards India is a stark contrast to Donald Trump.

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The question many Indians are asking is whether a Joe Biden presidency in the United States would be better for New Delhi than a second term for Donald Trump.

Here is how Joe Biden has acted towards India in the past two decades.

In an interview with Rediff India Abroad in December 2006, Joe Biden had said, “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States.” He was then the Ranking Member in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), and was set to become the Chair of the Committee in January 2007, since the Democrats had flipped the Senate in the November 2006 election.

Biden had also just piloted, along with his Republican counterpart, committee chairman Richard Lugar, with a 85-12 vote, the enabling resolution that permitted moving forward with the negotiations on the breakthrough India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. This was eventually signed in October 2008. In the intervening two years, which saw several challenges to the deal in both countries, Biden had steadfastly heralded support in the US Senate, particularly from opposing members in his own party. This included then Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who were influenced by concerns of the non-proliferation lobby. During an earlier incarnation as SFRC Chair, in 2001, Biden had written a letter to President George Bush in August 2001, calling for the removal of economic sanctions against India, which had been imposed since India’s nuclear tests of May 1998.

Speaking at the Mumbai Stock Exchange on 24 July 2013, during his visit to India as US Vice President, Biden had reiterated President Obama’s articulation that he saw the India-US relationship “as a defining partnership in the century ahead”. At an event last month commemorating India’s Independence Day, the Democratic presidential nominee said he would “stand with India” and that a Biden administration will “confront the threats (India) faces in its own region and along its border”, and there will be no tolerance for terrorism, cross border or otherwise.

Also read: You know me. Do I look like a radical socialist? — Biden hits back at Trump

Biden’s views

Biden is so far leading by 7-10 per cent on most national polls in the US, though the lead in several of the battleground states is lower. Much will also depend on how the three presidential debates between September 29 and October 22 play out. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was seen as leading, aided also by her performance in the third debate with Donald Trump on 19 October 2016, but the tide turned soon.

Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of 3 per cent, but lost in the electoral college, with conventionally Democratic leaning states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania flipping for Trump and his “America First” promise of bringing back jobs lost in globalisation.

A Biden victory, similarly, is not assured, but possible.

In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, Biden had written that one of his first steps as president would be to have the US rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, and convene an early summit of major emitters. He has also pledged that the US would work towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

India and the US had worked closely together in the run-up to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, where India, along with France, had initiated the International Solar Alliance. Trump has called climate change a hoax. India, which is impacted severely by climate change, will find opportunity in a Biden administration, to make green technology partnership a good basis to secure new supply chain arrangements in a post-Covid world.

Biden has also said that during his first year in office, the US will “organise and host a Global Summit for Democracy… galvanising significant new country commitments… in fighting corruption, defending against authoritarianism, and advancing human rights”. He also stated that he would involve civil society, the private sector including technology companies and social media giants, in this effort.

Also read: ‘Singa Pennae’ Kamala Harris will only help push India-US ties despite Modi-Trump bonding

Opportunity for India

It will be both a challenge and opportunity for India. At one level, it will be a platform that will target Chinese authoritarian practices, including in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. US leaders, including Biden, have repeatedly articulated India’s democracy and the commonality of values as a bedrock for the India-US relationship, and assessed this favourably in context of China and strategies for the Indo- Pacific.

However, in the Biden campaign agenda for the Muslim-American community, there is a call for restoring “rights for all people” in Kashmir, an assertion that restrictions on dissent, shutting or slowing down internet weaken democracies, and that Biden is “disappointed by NRC in Assam, CAA”, which is “inconsistent with the country’s long tradition of secularism and with sustaining a multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy”.

This is not just a reflection of the influence of the progressive wing of the party. Democratic chair of House Foreign Affairs and Ranking Member of Senate Foreign Relations Committees have sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing concern with India’s Citizenship Amendment Act. Several Democratic Indian-Americans in Congress, including vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, and one of the rising progressive stars, Pramila Jayapal, have also spoken critically on these issues.

Both Biden and his main foreign policy adviser Anthony Blinken have said that any differences on this will be handled as a dialogue among friends and partners. In any case, the US has much to account for on its own, including issues related to voter suppression, gerrymandering of voting districts, and violence against African-Americans and other minorities.

Also read: Why Democrats hold a secret edge if US presidential election is too close to call

Republicans vs Democrats

On account of longstanding Democratic activism on human rights and climate change issues, many in India wonder whether a Democratic or a Republican president is better for New Delhi.

It is useful to recall that it was a Republican Richard Nixon who had supported Pakistan in the 1971 conflict, and embarked on secret overtures in a bid to reconcile with China blindsiding India. It was a Republican Ronald Reagan who had strengthened Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) by providing support and funds through it for “militant jihad” to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. India suffered a blowback through ISI-sponsored terrorism, first in Punjab and then in Jammu and Kashmir. On the other hand, it was a Democratic Bill Clinton who supported India during the 1999 Kargil conflict, and initiated the new relationship with India through a pathbreaking visit in 2000.

It was a Republican George Bush who transformed the framework for the relationship with the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. But it was a Democratic Obama who was the first US President to visit India twice in his tenure, once to attend the Republic Day function in 2015, and he articulated support for India’s permanent membership of United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and declared it to be a ‘major defence partner’. But it has been a Republican Donald Trump who has been unreasonable on trade issues, taking away GSP benefits, but has spoken highly of the relationship, and authorised higher level technology releases. What matters more, clearly, is the geopolitical context within which the bilateral relationship is placed.

Also read: This US election, China is the biggest threat, not Russia, says Trump’s security adviser

Joe Biden’s dream

Compared to Trump, Joe Biden will be more understanding on trade and economic issues, while calling for more reforms and opening up. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also spoken of India being a trusted partner, and part of global supply chains, while strengthening self-reliance. A Biden presidency will also be more accommodating on H1B and family visa issues, as well as the problems of the nearly five lakh undocumented persons in the US who are of Indian origin.

A Biden administration will explore common areas of work with China, on climate change and trade, but will be guided also by the deep recognition of economic and technological rivalry, and unfair Chinese practices. On 3 September, Biden issued a statement on Tibet, promising that he will meet with the Dalai Lama (which Trump has not done), and appoint a special coordinator for Tibet issues.

A Biden administration can also be expected to be more globally influential, with its declared intent to work with allies and partners, and in multilateral frameworks. Trump is seen as having weakened US influence in parts of Europe and elsewhere. In a recent UNSC vote on Iran, 13 countries, including US allies United Kingdom, France and Germany, did not vote with the US.

Trump and Biden will present differing opportunities and challenges: on trade, climate change, and human rights; but similarities on Pakistan and China.

As things stand, 2020 is the year of the Biden dream, both for himself (he has aspired to the presidency for more than 30 years), and for the India-US relationship. Let us see what awaits at the other end of the dream.

The author is former Ambassador to the US and involved in dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the post-9/11 period. Views are personal.

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  1. The opinion appears like a ‘paid for propaganda’ article. Ambassador goes back to 50 years to Nixon Administration but forgets today’s India and USA are not the same as 50 years ago. Not even today’s world is the same. Today’s India is on the verge of becoming an economic giant in Asia and a power to reckon with China. Unfortunately, today’s USA is a country dealing with socialistic ambitions of few who are just waiting to take over from the side wings once Biden with dementia is in the White House. Today’s Biden is not the same one with moderate policies. He is a prisoner of ‘progressives in the Congress’. Ambassador Singh conveniently forgot to mention the raft of economic sanctions imposed by Bill Clinton just because India conducted the atomic test. How can a diplomat measure the cooperation between countries by the number of times a US President visited ? It is the actions that speak louder than meaningless gestures. Trump means what he says and he acts accordingly. He offered unconditional support to India to counter terrorism from across the border with Pakistan and Chinese threat to Indian sovereignty. No US President ever did that. Vote for Trump 2020.

  2. I can smell a stink of biasness in your article. U didn’t mention the greatest friend of India, George W bush, who went against USA’s own policy of NPT. He was responsible for India-USA Nuclear deal, he was a Republican. U intentionally forgot to mention that Donald Trump is the only president to visit on a stand-alone visit.

  3. Biden is better considering the present scenario. Why people living in India never consider the rigid rules on H1B? Actions matter in support rather than speech.There should be some civil rest in India and USA.Too many protests, too many failures!!

  4. Any decent India loving Indian should not vote for Biden or democrats, The party is full of anti India forces that helps carve out policies on India. E.g. Harris, Khanna etc.

  5. Actually, there are two questions within the question.. Who is better for India? And, who is better for Modi?! As always, both questions do not ask the same thing.. and as is most often the case, the answers go in opposite directions. Biden will be better for India. But Modi – who’s foreign policy is driven by the need to create personal propaganda at the domestic level – will prefer Trump for such vacuous statements that compare the violent Modi to our non-violent Mahatma Gandhi!

    • I think ,in 2008 ,PAKISTAN second highest civilian won by ghost named joe biden for giving 1.2 billon militry aid

  6. I do not think wether it is republican or democratic president make any difference to India. Foreign policy of USA is purely based on self interest and nothing more. President of USA is nothing more than cheer leader. USA has short memory and do deals at the time whatever foreign policy officials believe most beneficial to USA at that time. They see world as dynamic world and they see situation keep changing from one week to other. USA like short term deal to gain maximum benefits believing there are no friends or enemy in foreign policies and their way quickly change who is friend or enemy. You can see way in recent years how it treat its closes allies in Western Europe. They clearly sees power shifting to Asia from Europe and they want to make friend in Asia.

  7. India’s assessment of the two candidates should not be guided entirely by the bilateral relationship. The United States has a natural global leadership role which President Trump has been resiling from. On making trade more free, rules based, rather than driven by protectionism.On climate change, now the pandemic. It would also have been better for India not to immerse itself into America’s domestic politics, a caution that should for the future, even if Trump wins a second term. 2. India’s economic decline and the decay of its pluralism will have a bearing on how the next US administration sees us. A long process of rebuilding lies ahead, directly proportionate to how well we do at home.

  8. Trump or Biden? What difference it will make? Both groomed and retained by Israel. So take care of the master.This is 21st century America

  9. Biden is better if you don’t hate muslims & trump is great if u love empty promises & flip flop attitude.

    • Read about 1992 cryogenic engine deal between india and russia…and how biden made sure it doesn’t happen…read how biden has strengthened china against India in 3 decades and not on the promises he’s making for future… because that’s what “empty promises are”.

  10. Why is the Indian media trying to prepare Indians for a Biden victory? If Biden wins the onus will be on him to improve relations with India not the other way round. Despite our conflict with China we still do not need the US as much as the US needs us. As long as India has the Russians with us we can deal with China on our own terms without any ‘help’ from the USA.

  11. Between Chinese belligerence, European prevarication and Russian equivocation, the US is the only potential long-term ally of substance for India. All the more reason for our diplomats to keep both Democrats and Republicans on India’s side. One must be critical of PM Modi for being partial to Trump with overt public support for his re-election bid during his last US visit. Recent events have shown that Democrats have a substantial chance of capturing the US presidency and playing favourites could have been avoided. Modi must learn to look before he leaps.

  12. Damn! Democrat propaganda is on a roll, man.
    I believe Trump is much better than Biden for US-India relations. Biden is George Soros’s bitch.

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