As Obama’s V-P, Biden headed foreign policy committees in the Senate and is well aware of India’s strategic value
Regardless of the legal wrangles and the persistence of Donald Trump to prove that the verdict is still his for the taking, Democrat candidate Joe Biden has won the presidency. But what does a possible regime change mean for India? And this is where it becomes necessary to understand the bipartisan nature of US foreign policy. Whoever be the President, s/he is guided by the nation’s interest and strategic concerns regardless of what each has professed before. And while a Democratic regime would be under pressure to make sweeping changes in domestic policies, there is continuity in larger geo-political issues. To that extent, the Biden-Harris team is as wary of China and committed to supporting India as a bulwark State. One just has to go back to the Indo-US civil nuclear deal that was pushed by the George Bush administration. In 2009, when Democrat President and Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama took over, there were worries about operationalising it. However, Obama vowed to uphold it, even calling it historic. Besides, let us not forget that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a fruitful relationship with Obama. And he did work up an equation with Trump as well. Besides, Biden, while serving as Obama’s Vice-President, has headed foreign policy committees in the Senate and is considered an expert in that field. So if anybody understands India’s worth in the current US schematics, it would be him. Sensing the change in tide, the Indian Ambassador in the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, has already started holding meetings with Democrat Congressmen. Biden is likely to bring in Indian American Vivek Murthy to head the COVID-19 management programme. In the short term, Biden’s seriousness about the pandemic and his willingness to put his plan into action from his first day as a President could be beneficial for India too. It could translate into a shared perspective on the approach and an enhanced India-US partnership in health, sciences and supply chains. In terms of policy, there are some major differences between the two candidates. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran had limited India’s investment and oil imports. With Biden promising to revive the Iran nuclear deal, a highlight of the Obama administration, New Delhi can continue with the development of the strategic Chabahar port, a venture crucial to keep both China and Pakistan in check. Also, unlike Trump, Biden could be generous to allies and since Trump’s economic nationalism caused billions of dollars of export losses to India and even denied it the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) privileges, we could expect some easing there.
In terms of countering China, Trump has definitely been an asset and his role in strengthening the Quad cannot be questioned following the former’s misadventure in Ladakh. But Biden has been far more critical of China’s policies in Xinjiang province and the atrocities against the Uyghurs, its treatment of Hong Kong protests and Taiwan, which could prove to be more decisive. He had said that the strengthening of ties between the two democracies would be a matter of “high priority” for his administration, as the two countries were “natural partners.” And a document released by his campaign also claimed that he would be working with India in the Indo-Pacific region to ensure no country, including China, “is able to threaten its neighbours with impunity.” Biden has appeared more sensitive in dealing with his allies. So, when Trump at the last presidential debate called India’s air filthy, Biden had responded by saying that: “You don’t speak about friends like that.” The cherry on the cake is the Democrat leader’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change as India was hoping for investment from the Green Climate Fund in its renewable energy initiatives. Biden’s support, first for reforming the temporary visa system for high-skill, speciality jobs and then expanding the number of visas offered, which had kept so many Indians in queue, will be beneficial even though it will be equally favourable for our other neighbours, including China. India could benefit with Biden planning to resume US’s position at most global alliances and UN bodies that Trump had walked out of while pursuing his brand of protectionism and nationalism. That would help get India more endorsement when it matters. Of course, many here are fearing that Biden’s global push for more democracy and human rights may draw attention to Kashmir but he has the expertise and gravitas to follow a more nuanced approach. And with New Delhi planning local body elections and willing to increase political engagement, it should not be a hurdle as such. Of course, there’s Russia, on which Biden might take a hard line. But then, India managed to get its arms deals through with Russia in the Trump years despite apprehension. Besides, Russia, though indebted to China for infrastructure deals, has common cause with India against China’s giganticism and still respects the historicity of ties. So Indo-US relations are expected to be on an even keel.
Monday, 09 November 2020 | Pioneer
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