India and US Relation in Biden Era

Uzma Anam Rahman
March 20, 2021

 

Joe Biden took office of the President of the US on 20th January 2021. Biden is poised to continue the upward trajectory of relations between India and US, this is evident from his record as Vice President in the Obama administration demonstrated his sensitivity to Indian concerns and encouraged a growing bilateral relationship. Throughout his long career in Washington, he also cultivated important friendships in the Indian American community, a constituency whose political engagement and impact have grown with each passing election. This can been clearly seen as his running mate and now Vice-President Kamala Harris who is of Indian origin. This provides hope to India that Biden truly trusts his relationship with India and will take the bilateral relations to greater heights. Biden has also surrounded himself with many Indian Americans at high positions. Joe Biden has over 30 of them in important posts while Trump had less than a dozen. The Biden electoral campaign clearly displayed intention to work with India to support a rules-based and stable Indo-Pacific region.

Biden and Modi spoke for the first time on 8th February after Biden took office in January. This was the second call between the two leaders, the first being in November after Biden’s victory in the presidential election. They talked about how “the United States and India will work closely together to win the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, renew their partnership on climate change, rebuild the global economy in a way that benefits the people of both countries, and stand together against the scourge of global terrorism. The leaders agreed to continuing close cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity, and a stronger regional architecture through the Quad. The President underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world and noted that a shared commitment to democratic values is the bedrock for the U.S.-India relationship.”[1] This gives India a positive sense of hope that this relation is on the path of growth. Biden administration is unlikely to reverse many of the gains in India-US ties that were made under the Trump administration. Defence cooperation pacts like the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), Industrial Security Annex (ISA), voluminous arms sales agreements and joint military exercises signal the growing proximity of the two nations in the security realm.[2]

Biden has always recognised the importance of having India as an ally and collaborating on issues like security, environment, trade etc., which are all critical for the economic growth of India and the US. Biden may overturn some economic decisions taken by Trump. Biden has signalled his intention to rebuild the American manufacturing base and may seek to drive down the persistent US-India trade imbalance. One good thing is that there will be a stability in Biden’s policies unlike Trump and that works well for India-US relationship.

On issues such as immigration and visa, Biden will implement changes that support and recognise that “Immigrants bring tremendous economic, cultural, and social value to their new communities.”[3] Biden will support expanding the number of high-skilled visas and eliminating the limits on employment-based visas by country, which create unacceptably long backlogs. This might be a big relief to India as most of the H-B1 visa holders are Indians and thus reduce India’s tension with US on visa issues.

Another field where there maybe be further development between the two countries is climate change an area which took a setback under Trump. US has joined the Paris Agreement and this is a good sign as both the countries can now work together to tackle climate related issues. Climate change and energy-related issues are expected to be an important part of the cooperation between the two countries.

During Biden’s administration there is a high chance of the return of human rights agenda as an important plank of US foreign policy. With the ongoing farmers’ protest, it is yet to see if US will comment on this issue. It is up for speculation that in future India and US may have discussions on human rights and India might be lectured on its domestic policies.

Biden has expressed a desire to cooperate with China on transnational issues like climate change, non-proliferation and global health security, suggesting he might adopt a less belligerent approach than Trump to the relationship with China. However, given the bipartisan consensus in Washington about the intensifying geopolitical and technological competition between China and the US, Delhi will be relatively confident that India will continue to be seen as a key security partner in Washington. Moreover, Biden has been vocal on issues like human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the clampdown on political freedoms in Hong Kong.[4] The Biden Administration has already announced that it will focus on its East Asian allies, which means China will be countered in the western Pacific. However India is a crucial partner to counter Chinese maneuvers. “A relatively weakened US would require more burden- sharing, and India can fulfil that role unlike others who as allies are entirely dependent on the US for security.”[5]

Even as the future of ties between the two countries look positive, it it will be idealistic to assume such a cooperative and positive relation in the international environment filled with uncertainties. We must be ready for any rifts and arguments that may arise because no relationship exists without friction. Although there is scope for more development, India should not lose focus and pursue its foreign policies on its own terms and compromise only when it benefits both the countries.

The broad contours of the India-US bilateral relationship are likely to stay unchanged under a Biden administration as a bipartisan consensus on India policy has existed in Washington over the past few years. Consequently, India is gradually inched towards becoming a key strategic partner of the US. Also another important aspect of this relationship which is yet to develop is the personal ties between Biden and Modi. Such personal relationships are very important for any foreign relation policies and they carry the weight to develop relations even further. The India-US relation under the Biden administration is in embryonic stage, and it is to be seen how the relation moves forward.

The author is currently a student of 1st Semester of M.A in Political Science at Dibrugarh University.

References

[1] Statement and Release (2021, February 8) Readout of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. The White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/08/readout-of-president-joseph-r-biden-jr-call-with-prime-minister-narendra-modi-of-india/ Accessed on Date:14-02-2021 Time:11:23pm

[2] Mukherjee, Bappaditya, Dr. (2020, December 21) Joe Biden’s foreign policy priorities and interests: Implications for India. Financial Express https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/joe-bidens-foreign-policy-apriorities-and-interests-implications-for-india/2154167/ Accessed on Date:14-02-2021 Time:11:43pm

[3] Chothani, Poorvi (2020, October 12) Trump versus Biden: Who will be better for India when it comes to immigration?, The Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/visa-and-immigration/trump-versus-biden-who-will-be-better-for-india-when-it-comes-to-immigration/articleshow/78616777.cms Accessed on Date:14-02-2021 Time:11:33pm

[4] Dave, Aaditya (2020 December 9) The Biden Administration and the Future of US–India Ties, Rusi. https://rusi.org/commentary/biden-administration-and-future-us-india-ties Accessed on Date:14-02-2021 Time:11:45pm

[5] Roche, Elizabeth (2021, January 18) The Biden presidency will not materially affect US-India ties. Mint. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/the-biden-presidency-will-not-materially-affect-us-india-ties-11610938794490.html ties Accessed on Date:14-02-2021 Time:11:55pm

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