Strategically, both need each other in the current security environment. There may be significant improvement in economic relations as India tries to become a manufacturing hub that could see a rise in US funding influx.
By S.D. Pradhan
Since the US Presidential election, there is a debate on the new US administration’s policies and their impact on relations with India. Early indications confirm that close strategic relations between the two countries would continue under President Joe Biden. Over the years, the India-US relations have transformed from bilateral one to a strategic partnership. The relationship has become increasingly multifaceted covering cooperation in areas of defense, trade, nuclear energy, science and technology including space, environmental and health. In 2020, the relationship was elevated to a comprehensive global strategic partnership.
Bipartisan support in US on several regional and international issues to India is available. Biden and his team have indicated their intention to maintain close ties between the two countries. Even before taking over oath as the President, in a tele-conversation with the Indian PM, both reiterated their commitment to the Indo-US strategic partnership and discussed shared priorities and concerns including the pandemic, climate change, and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Biden while campaigning had stated that India was a natural partner of US.
India and the US have signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA), with which the two countries have inked all the all four foundational agreements to bolster defense ties. These would push the two countries to advance the bilateral ties to next level. The US and its defense companies would like to further this relationship as arms sales have been a vital element in the US foreign policy. Given Biden’s anti-Russia orientation, he would push for replacement of Russia as the biggest defense partner of India. This ensures the transfer of high technological systems and equipment.
Biden’s pick for the post of Secretary of State, Antony J Blinken in his testimony to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said that India had been “very much a bipartisan success story over successive administrations” be it from the Bill Clinton administration to George W. Bush, then Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and that “this will continue to make progress under the Joe Biden government”. Significantly, he also made it clear that the strategic ties with India will remain strong, especially on the Indo-Pacific and there would be continuity from the Trump administration in dealing with China’s aggressive actions. The US strategic interests demand support for the free and open Indo-Pacific.
Similar views were also expressed by the new Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J Austin in his Senate confirmation. A retired four-star general of US army, he stated that China was a ‘pacing challenge’. US concerns about countering China, which directly affects the US global role require closer strategic ties with India. India is the only country in Asia, which can independently check the Chinese expansionist approach. This aspect has also been clearly indicated in the declassified papers of 2018. This reflects that there would not be any change on the US approach towards China’s expansionist policy and would remain concern on the Chinese aggressive moves.
Hence on China, any change in US approach is unlikely. Biden himself had shown a dislike for President Xi, who was called a thug in the run up to his election. US has strategic interests in containing Chinese ambition for global domination. Taiwan remains an important ally. The Biden administration has already announced that it would focus on East Asian allies, which means China would be countered in the region around South China Sea. The Chinese order to its Coast Guards issued last week to use all weapons on foreign ships in the South China Sea would escalate tension further with the US.
Economic relations between India and the US have improved despite some irritants. US is India’s biggest export destination. It accounts for 16% in the exports of goods exports and 50% of IT and BPO services. Bilateral trade was at $88.75 billion in 2019-20. In 2019, the US was the largest goods export market (17% share) for India and, in terms of goods import supplier, it was the third largest. In April-September 2020, the US was the second biggest source of FDI for India. It is likely that higher portfolio investments influenced by federal rates will flow into India. Trump’s obsession with trade balance obsession resulted in creating tension with the withdrawal of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) but they are likely to vanish with the US desire to de-couple from the Chinese dominated economic system. With US manufacturing firms moving out from China, US realizes the need for an alternative supply line.
The Quad countries are pushing for this and have the support from the ASEAN countries. India and US are on the same page on these issues.
On Afghanistan, there may be some positive development. Biden administration has indicated that the peace deal with Taliban would be reviewed to see if the Taliban are keeping their end of the bargain. The Afghan government, which was sidelined when the deal was finalized, have complained that the Taliban continue to violate the terms. This would expose the role of Pakistan and of China which had deployed its spies to contact the Haqqani faction. A review is in the interest of Kabul and New Delhi. The Pak-Afghan region remains the epicenter of terrorism and demands effective measures to neutralize the terrorists operating from this region.
Of course, human rights would remain a focus of the Biden administration. While India has dealt with such pressure in the past and can present its views, China and Pakistan, which are the worst abusers of human rights, would come under greater pressure. The Tibet Policy and Support Act 2020 had bipartisan support in the US. This was actually a reaction to Xi’s policy for complete subjugation of the Tibetans by destroying their culture and religion and imposing the CCP’s ideology. Similarly, the atrocities committed on Muslims in Uyghurs have received attention of US policy makers and opinion shapers. On these issues there would be increased pressure on China.
On the whole, there would be no fundamental change in the Indo-US relations and approach towards the major issues concerning India including Indo-Pacific strategy and Chinese aggressive policy under the Biden administration. There are indications that the relationship may deepen in the coming years as both need each other in the current security environment. There may be significant improvement in economic relations with India trying to become a manufacturing hub that could see a rise in US funding influx. India too would have to improve its performance in economic field by creating necessary infrastructure for attracting manufacturing. However, the criticism against China would not be as shrill as was during the Trump period. Biden administration’s approach would be more balanced, driven by pragmatism. The US objective would remain to ensure that the strategic balance is not destroyed by China and for this it would use all leverages. Blinken in the course of his Senate nomination, expressed support for Trump’s aggressive confrontation of China.
S.D. Pradhan has served as chairman of India’s Joint Intelligence Committee and deputy national security adviser. Op Ed courtesy TOI.
Kamala Harris as vice president further cements India-US ties: White House
“Certainly, historic moment for all of us in this country but a further cementing of the importance of India-US relationship,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Kamala Harris becoming Vice President.
President Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States, respects the long bipartisan successful relationship between the two countries, White Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference last week.
“President Biden, of course, has visited India many times, respects and values the long bipartisan successful relationship between the India and the United States. He looks forward to a continuation of that,” Psaki said responding to a question on India-US relationship under the Biden Administration.