Opinion Papers

Tuesday December 1, 2020

Joe Biden - December 2020

Author:  Adit Jain,Editorial Director, IMA India December 2020

A New Era in Global Affairs

The ostensible Indian enthusiasm about Joe Biden’s election as President of the United States, should not blurry the concerns of India’s foreign office as it seeks to protect the gains it unexpectedly received during the Presidency of Donald Trump. Progressive analysts believe that a Biden administration will be good for America and perhaps also for its traditional allies. But whether it helps India’s strategic interests remains a question. President Trump altered the equations that bind America’s relationship with Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It would be fair to conclude that in the final count his tenure was good for India. This was largely on the premise of personal equations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Whilst India, like several countries, went through economic pain, as a result of certain American decisions, strategic ties prospered as the Trump administration placed it high on the pecking order of international security alignments. Military hardware, previously unavailable, was generously offered. Be that as it may, Indian policy makers remained on tenterhooks in dealing with the White House. Under a Biden Presidency, America’s policy direction can be assumed to be more predictable whilst not entirely favourable.

Key issues of importance to India

A number of issues remain significant through inter-linkages and collateral spill-overs in changing geopolitical structures. First, the treatment handed out by a future Biden administration towards China and Pakistan could disrupt the status quo. The opposition towards China understandably had flip-side benefits for India. Still, it remains unlikely that a Democratic administration will radically change US policy, as the anti-China sentiment enjoys bipartisan support in Congress. In the same vein, Pakistan’s obvious drop into the Chinese camp, through stronger military and economic ties, would compel Washington to treat it with a fair degree of wariness.

On trade issues, India would logically seek its previously privileged access to the US market to be restored as an emerging economy. President Trump had abolished many of these benefits. It seems unlikely, at this juncture, that Mr Biden would reinstate them without an exchange deal which serves the interests of American companies. As things stand, the US is one of India’s top trading partners with bilateral exchanges in the region of USD 90 billion. Despite efforts on both sides and the professed closeness between the two administrations, a trade deal could not be concluded during Mr Trump’s tenure. It is possible that due to the pandemic, which diverted interests towards more pressing issues, the required effort to conclude even a mini-deal was not forthcoming. During his campaign, Mr Biden remained visibly silent on the revocation of trade tariffs. Therefore, as things stand, it seems implausible that a trade agreement can be established without a meaningful quid pro quo from India. However, analysts believe that a more liberal US visa regime for Indian professionals is likely to be offered as an olive branch.

The big headache for India’s administration is in the area of human rights and religious freedom, an issue that many Democrats consider to be a core value. Their interpretation of the administrative changes implemented in the state of Jammu & Kashmir is that they violate these principles. It follows therefore that a Biden-led White House would seek greater scrutiny of domestic Indian political developments, possibly leading to a pushback.