Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
26th January 2022
Performances of American Presidents are periodically scrutinized. Various US opinion polls keep publishing report cards on the successes and failures of their presidents as per the judgement of the politically conscious American people.
President Biden received a highly positive rating in polls after completing one hundred days in office, but majority of those polled after completion of one year of Biden Presidency are of the opinion that President Joe Biden has not been doing his job to their satisfaction.
These reports are significant since the US is going to have midterm Congressional elections in the month of November and such assessments by the electorate do not augur well for the Biden-led Democratic Party. The political forte of the Democratic Party in both the Houses of the US Congress is rather minimal and the Republican Party requires about five seats in the House of Representatives and one seat in the Senate to emerge as the majority party in the US Congress. A republican victory in the November Congressional elections will make it much more difficult for the Biden Presidency to run the administration.
Like the American public, other countries—both America’s allies and adversaries also keep the American administration under their watch. For example, Russia, China and Pakistan and several other countries do not appear to have valued the Biden Administration’s policies towards them. There is a standoff between the Biden Administration and the Putin regime, especially on the issue of Ukraine. Xi Jinping of China and President Biden are in a confrontation mode on several issues, especially the Chinese military manoeuvres across the Taiwan Strait. Pakistan is very dismayed over the fact that President Biden has not spoken to Prime Minister Imran Khan even once in last one year and the US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan has rather severely muddied the relation between the United States and Pakistan.
Significantly, American allies in Europe also seem unhappy over their respective relationships with the Biden Administration in last one year. In general, they perceive that President Biden, while sounding friendly in his tone and language, has excessively focussed on the Indo-Pacific and has not taken steps to repair the ruptured Trump era trade, investment and security ties with Europe. More worrisome for the European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union was the way Biden Administration treated France by concluding a nuclear submarine deal with Australia along with Britain. France was never consulted and in addition it lost billions of dollars of contract it had already signed with Australia to build submarines.
The Biden Administration’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific tells a different story. China is a strategic competitor and its leader Xi Jinping perceives President Biden to be systematically seeking to contain the rise of China as a superpower that can rival the US role in world affairs. President Biden’s extraordinary and sturdy support to Taiwan and warning to China to refrain from taking any military action against Taiwan has not gone down the Chinese throat. Diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics, sanctions on products from Xinjiang, opposition to what China did in Hong Kong and several other issues, including differences over trade and pandemic issues make it appear that China and the US are already in a state of cold confrontation.
However, President Biden has given considerable attention to the Indo-Pacific affairs, convened the first ever summit in virtual mode of the QUAD or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, subsequently convened an in-person summit with Quad member countries and restored the respectability involved in America’s dealing with the allies, such as Japan, South Korea and Australia. The ASEAN countries, which were agitated over US disproportionate focus on Afghanistan and the West Asian region, now appear optimistic that the US has turned around and is now showing interest in Indo-Pacific affairs.
As far as India is concerned, Biden Administration’s one year has been quite positive. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Biden have interacted with each other multiple times over telephone, virtual meetings and even in-person meetings. Biden sided with India in the midst of Chinese aggressive moves along the Indian border, the two countries have remained by and large on the same page on major strategic issues as reflected in the joint statements issued after QUAD summits and have also launched a major initiative on clean energy cooperation. High-level exchanges among the leaders of the two countries have taken place multiple times. Moreover, the momentum towards deeper strategic partnership has not been interrupted by India’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia.
India and the United States do not have identical views on all issues. There have been critical differences over several issues, including the way Washington handles the Afghan affairs, conducts its ties with Iran; uses its domestic legislation in its political and economic diplomacies and the American comments and observations on Indian domestic affairs. Nonetheless, the strategic partnership has continued in a positive trajectory during last one year of the Biden Presidency.
*The Author is Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is the Founder and Honorary Chairperson of the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies (KIIPS)
Disclaimer: The Views in the Article are of the Author
This expert opinion is a part of the KIIPS special series on President Biden’s first year in office from an Indian perspective