Presidential elections in the US have historically been conducted smoothly, despite the complexities that mark the country’s federal system. The recent presidential elections took place amidst a spike in the Covid-19 pandemic, which infected around 18.5 million people and has left over 3.35 lakh dead. These are astonishing figures, far exceeding the numbers of cases in countries like China and India, which have, populations over three times that of the US.
Millions of Americans would agree that it was the irresponsible behaviour of President Donald Trump before, during and after the presidential elections, which contributed significantly to the huge casualties the US has suffered.
Though under strain, the US electoral system stood up to these challenges efficiently and successfully, amidst the raging pandemic. Happily, “Trump Tantrums” will soon be a thing of the past, as President Biden settles down in Washington.
How does President Biden view India? As the influential head of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Biden strongly backed moves by Republican President George Bush, in 2005, to end US nuclear sanctions against India. A more balanced and nuanced policy in relations with India has been adopted by three successive Presidents, Bush, Obama and Trump — a period when the India-US relationship has improved significantly.
Security cooperation with the US has expanded substantially during this period, with India joining the Quad, a four-power security grouping across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India. The US and India recently signed an Intelligence Sharing Agreement, at the height of the Ladakh tensions. This Agreement gives India real-time intelligence on developments across its borders with China. Both the US and India share a common interest, in moderating China’s aggressive policies across the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The visa issue
The incoming Biden Administration will be more realistic and liberal on issues of visas to Indian nationals. There could well be an easing of some of the harsher measures taken by the Trump Administration, on immigration of Indian specialists, primarily for the IT Industry.
With the US economy set for higher growth rates, the IT Industry in the US will grow stronger. The manner in which India’s pharmaceutical industry has functioned and delivered results, during the Covid-19 pandemic, has also evinced international interest in pharmaceuticals made in India.
With the US now preparing for greater spending, we should look for greater market access, which India is entitled to, under the WTO’s General Scheme of Preferences. The Trump Administration denied such access to India on crucial Indian exports like aluminum, steel and medical products. India would have to initiate early negotiations with the Biden team to get included in the US Generalized System of Preferences, permitting easier market access for Indian products.
Biden will return to the traditional US policy of close consultations with European partners like the UK, France, Germany and Italy, on important foreign policy and security issues. These old American allies will also be consulted in formulating policies towards the Islamic world. While traditional policies of security and international support for Israel will continue, Biden will not allow Israel to determine and guide US policies on Iran, and on the Palestinian issue. He will take a more measured position towards Iran, seeking to end sanctions imposed by Trump.
Most importantly for India, the US policies towards China and India will be carefully coordinated with European Allies, and other members of the “Quad”. The US will continue to act firmly against China, opposing its extravagant territorial claims on its maritime borders with virtually every maritime neighbour. But, given the economic mess he has inherited from his predecessor, the primary focus of attention of Biden will be on setting his country’s house in order.
Biden visited India, as the US Vice-President in 2013, when Obama was the President. He has been well disposed towards India. There are three high-level officials whom India will have to deal with regularly. External Affairs Minister’s S Jaishankar’s counterpart will be Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
Speaking about relations with India recently, Blinken, who has been a long-term Advisor to Biden, remarked: “Strengthening and deepening the relationship with India is going to be a very high priority. It is important to the future of the Indo-Pacific, and the kind of order that we all want; it is fair, stable, and hopefully, increasingly democratic. It is vital, to being able to tackle some of these big global challenges.”
Blinken has also advocated the growth of “defence industrial cooperation” with India. This is a proposal which could, if properly negotiated and taken forward, transform defence production in India.
The China factor
Joe Biden now has strong views on China. He would like to moderate and contain China’s aggressive policies across the Indo-Pacific Region. He will carry along his European allies in the conduct of these policies. He has indicated that the US would counter China’s threats to seize territory , on their maritime boundaries, from countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
China will also no longer get easy access to US technology and investment, in sensitive areas. The US has welcomed moves by India to avoid getting overdependent on Chinese imports and investments.
There could, however, be differences on the approach of India and the US, on relations with Russia. The Obama and Trump Administrations did not interfere with India’s defence acquisitions from Russia. There are also concerns about a hasty American withdrawal from Afghanistan, at a time when the Taliban, armed and equipped by Pakistan army, is seizing more territory. Pakistan’s logistical and armed support to the Taliban within its own borders is now well documented. The Afghan government would need air support from the US, to deal with this situation. President Biden has appointed General Lloyd Austin, who was earlier Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, as its new Defence Secretary. He would know better than others, about ISI backing of the Taliban.
Security ties between India and the US are expanding substantially. The Quad has the potential to play a major role in the security of the Indo-Pacific Region. India is reportedly being invited by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, together with Australia, to a Summit meeting in London, of the of the G-7, comprising the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany and Italy and Japan. This will serve to boost India’s relations with the world’s major industrial powers. Interestingly, this proposed invitation has followed the recent tensions with China, and the exit of the UK from the European Union.