No blues for India

| Updated on November 09, 2020 Published on November 09, 2020

A file photo of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.   -  Reuters

Despite pinpricks over human rights, realpolitik will ensure US-India ties remain on even course

US President-elect Joe Biden will be doing plenty of fence-mending with global allies in the coming months after four years of diplomatic tantrums by President Donald Trump. Biden’s first priorities will be rejoining the 2015 Paris Climate Pact Trump abruptly exited two years ago, and normalising US ties with Europe. Biden’s vowed, in fact, the US will rejoin the Paris accord on his first day in office. The President-elect will also come back to WHO that Trump had quit. The US will keep pushing for Europe to contribute more to NATO’s budget but it’s likely to be a less divisive issue.

The key US policy focus under Biden, as one aide put it, will remain “China, China, China.” Trump’s tariff war and other anti-China moves defined his foreign policy. While Biden may seek to lower temperatures and strike some compromise tariff deal with China, he’s likely to up human rights pressure. And both sides are now openly ranged against each other: The US is determined to preserve its No. 1 superpower status while China is equally committed to grabbing it. Beijing’s aggressive moves from Ladakh to Taiwan mean the world’s been put on notice. Washington’s China emphasis is certain to ensure India will be more in Washington’s sights even if the key action will still be in the South China Sea. But we shouldn’t expect the overtly aggressive tone Secretary of State Mike Pompeo displayed on his recent South Asia swing. On Afghanistan, Biden during his vice-president stint is said to have been unwilling to see the US embroiled in another Vietnam-style conflict. The big question mark’s whether he’ll withdraw troops totally or maintain a small intelligence and military force in Afghanistan. Biden’s also already made it clear that restoring the Iranian nuclear deal is a priority and here he must move quickly before more hardliners are returned to power as appears possible in Iran’s coming elections. The Iranians are eager for US sanctions to end but they’ll want reassurances another Trump-like leader won’t emerge and renege on any pact. For India, lifting sanctions on its long-time ally will be a relief and open chances to relook at key projects like Chabahar.

India’s invested a lot in its US relationship and Prime Minister Narendra Modi quickly tweeted congratulations to Biden on his “spectacular victory.” But there’ll be one large question-mark: Trump was uninterested in human rights. But the Biden-Harris campaign manifesto stated India should “take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people of Kashmir”. It also rapped the Citizens’ Amendment Act as “inconsistent with the country’s long tradition of secularism”. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris has come out openly on these issues and her stance will be closely watched. But while these may be friction points, it’s expected realpolitik will triumph and keep India-US relations on a steady course.

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Published on November 09, 2020
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