Donald Trump or Joe Biden, India-US Ties Will be the Winner as America Goes to Vote
Image for representation.
Irrespective of who takes the Oval Office next, current President Donald Trump from the Republican Party or Democratic Party’s Joe Biden, India is going to see stronger bilateral relations with the US in days ahead.
With Trump, India is already on a road to become one of most important ally of the world’s most powerful nation with four years of tried and tested approach to take cue from. With Biden, India can expect some changes to happen, owing to a different party running the US government.
But it is pertinent to note that India and the US ties saw an uptick in confidence-building during the Barack Obama government from 2008 to 2016, during which Biden served as the vice president.
Obama was the first US President to visit India twice and was also the Chief Guest on India’s Republic Day, the first US President do so. Biden was Obama’s deputy and was part of the US government that gave a new direction to the Indo-US relations.
Larger Geopolitical Interest
The basics of the cooperation between the two countries are now even more symbiotic owing to the larger global geopolitical development due to rise of China. China, on one hand is challenging India’s sovereignty, and on the other hand, is challenging the US’s economic and military power with One Belt One Road initiative with a clear intent to dominate the world.
Most of the major powers of the world, including the US and Japan, are looking at alternative markets as they blame China for Covid-19 pandemic. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims they have enormous evidence to prove that coronavirus behind COVID-19 crisis was generated in a Chinese lab. India, with its population base of 1.35 billion people, appears to be the best possible alternative, from marketing as well as manufacturing perspectives. Japan is offering subsidies to Japanese companies to move out of China.
The Road Ahead
India and the US have seen an upswing in foreign and defence relations over the last few years. And with China growing more belligerent now, it has only added to the compulsion to come together even more closer in bilateral ties.
Obama-led US administration designated India a Major Defence Partner (MDP) in 2016. The two countries signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which was first discussed between the two in early 2000s. The deal shows a level of confidence both countries have in each other as now they can share their military bases, even if for repair and replenishment of supplies.
Donald Trump extended it. He started with India the ‘2+2’ minister dialogue mechanism in September 2018 during which India and the US also signed another major defence deal, 'Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA)' that allows sale of high end technology to India and interoperability between India the US militaries. ‘2+2’ platform is a defence and external affairs dialogue mechanism between two close allies to discuss strategic and security interests.
Recently, the third edition of the dialogue was held in New Delhi during which India and the US signed another landmark defence deal, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial cooperation (BECA). The BECA will help India in long-range missile targeting and navigation. This defence deal was long on the discussion table but the Chinese threat was one of the reasons that pushed India and the US to sign the deal finally. With the foundational defence troika, BECA, LEMOA and COMCASA in place, both countries can now go for large-scale military cooperation with classified intelligence on geo-spatial satellite and sensor data.
So, in defence, what Obama administration started has only been strengthened by the Trump administration and both countries are expected to follow the path be it Donald Trump or Joe Biden.
When it comes to China, Trump and Biden both realise the gravity of the Chinese threat though their approaches to handle the issue may differ. Trump sees China as foe and adversary, while Biden sees China as a competitor. Trump has vowed to eliminate the huge trade deficit that the US has with China. It is involved in trade war with China and Trump administration is working with India to create anti-China trade and military blocks like ‘The Quad’, an Indo-Pacific initiative between the US, Japan, Australia and India.
Biden, on the other hand, believes in taking an economic route to tackle China. We cannot predict Biden’s measure with The Quad initiative if he comes to power, but he says his administration would work with India for a rule-based and stable Indo-Pacific region and would ensure that no country including China threaten its neighbours with impunity.
Pakistan and Terror
For Pakistan, Trump has been the most toughened US president who stopped the huge military assistance it gives to the country annually and has called Pakistan a ‘terror haven’. The first two years of the bilateral relation between the US and Pakistan were quite strained compared to last two years when it saw some positive developments owing to Afghan Peace Process with Taliban where Pakistan is a stakeholder.
Biden did not name Pakistan while speaking on terror in South Asia while speaking on his agenda on India and Indian-Americans. He said there would be no tolerance for terror in South Asia, cross-border or otherwise. We may question Biden for not naming Pakistan here but it was Biden who released the first detailed agenda on India and Indian-Americans in the US Presidential Election in August 2020 as he named China for threatening its neighbours.
We have seen Donald Trump’s flip-flops on Kashmir. He has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir but India’s strong denial has forced him to say that Kashmir is a bilateral issue only between India and Pakistan. On the other hand, Biden has been more vocal on Kashmir. He says the Indian Government should restore the rights of the Kashmiri people, including their right to dissent and organise peaceful protests.
But we can say this might be an election rhetoric as he delivered this message to the American Muslims. Soon after this message was released, he called India a natural partner in another message and said that strengthening the relationship would be a high priority area if he was elected.
Economy and Trade
Trump sees India more as a business partner with give and take approach, be it foreign affairs, defence, trade or information-technology relationship. It is more of a transactional nature of relationship. While he speaks for a broader economic relationship with India, he also pushes India to give America more access to the Indian markets. His America First policy says India is a tariff king with unfair trade practices.
Biden’s focus is also on protecting the interests of the US companies but Obama-Biden administration worked amicably to rule out the trade differences between India and America and we may see the trade tension easing.
When it comes to IT industry, Trump has been particularly hostile. His anti-immigrant policy targets IT professionals from India. He sees H1B visa for IT professionals as a cheap labour programme and has vowed to end it. In July, he suspended the H1B visa programme. Biden, on contrary, looks like a saviour. He says he will secure the values as a nation of immigrants. He says he will be less harsh and will lift the H1B ban if elected and will increase the number of visas for permanent work-based immigration or the Green Card system.
How They See India
Trump says America loves India but he also says India is a filthy country. While he shares bonhomie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he criticises India’s Covid-19 response, questioning the accuracy of the pandemic death toll. On Citizenship Amendment Act, he said it was up to India but warned India of retaliation for banning hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) exports to the US. HCQ is used as a preventive medicine in coronavirus treatment. Such a reaction is bound to happen when bilateral ties are seen from a transactional point of view.
Biden, however, maintains that India and the US can and should be natural allies. What precedes him again is the good work done during the eight years of Obama days. His agenda released to India and Indian-Americans says as a senator in 2006, he believed India and the US will be two closest nations one day. Biden pushed other Democrats to back India-US civil nuclear deal.
True, he has criticised CAA and NRC and if elected, his administration may convey its displeasure to the Indian government but we also need to put it in the context of his recent statement that one of the high priority works of the Biden Administration, if elected, would be to bolstering ties with India.
So, no matter who is going to rule next America next, India is expected to see a much closer relationship. Trump Administration considers India as a pivot to its global geopolitical strategy against China while Biden believes that India and The US should come together as responsible partners to solve global challenges.