June 14, 2024

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will Joe Biden be good for India?

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What does President Joe Biden mean for India, and how far its relationship with the US?

Recently, Joe Biden has won the presidentship of the USA, and soon he will take oath as the 46th president of the United States of America. As usual, Biden will break with successive US presidents’ policy of having more in-depth, better ties with India. Also, like all his predecessors, he is likely to have his style and nuances.

Democrat Joe Biden has been declared the winner of the 2020 US primary election, defeating Donald Trump. So, will Joe Biden be right for India? This is something every Indian wants to know. His stance could be like in some key areas, judging by his past record and statements.

The first question is-

Will Joe Biden be a friend or foe of India? To begin answering this, let me tell you that much before he became Vice President in the Barack Obama administration, Biden had advocated a stronger relationship with India.

Biden played an important role, both as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as Vice President, in systematically deepening strategic engagement with India.

In fact, in 2006, three years before he became the Vice-President of the US, Biden announced his vision for the future of US-India relations: “I dream that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States,” he had said.

Although (then) Senator Obama was initially hesitant to support the Indo-US nuclear deal, Biden led the charge and worked with both Democrats and Republicans to approve the nuclear deal in the US Congress in 2008. Next question is what his contribution was during his term as VP in the Obama administration?

Biden was one of the key advocates of strengthening the Indo-US partnership, especially in strategic areas. During that time, the US officially declared its support for India’s membership in a reformed and expanded United Nations Security Council. This had been a key demand of successive Indian governments, which Washington fulfilled during Biden’s term as VP.

The Obama-Biden Administration also named India a “Major Defense Partner” – a status approved by the US Congress – which made it easier to share advanced and critical technology with India to strengthen defense ties. This was important since it was for the first time that any country was given this status, outside of the US’s traditional alliance system.

In fact, in August 2016, at the far end of the Obama administration, the two sides signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), the first of the three “foundational pacts” deeper military cooperation.

LEMOA allows the US and India’s militaries to replenish from each other’s bases, access supplies, spare parts, and services from each other’s land facilities, air bases, and ports, which can then be reimbursed.

LEMOA is extremely useful for India-US Navy-to-Navy cooperation since the two countries are cooperating closely in the Indo-Pacific. To put the usefulness of this agreement in simple terms, it is like being able to stop at a friend’s garage or workshop to refuel your car or get it repaired when you are far away from your own home or workshop.

Later on, the Trump administration signed the remaining foundational pacts – COMCASA and BECA.

The next and essential question is, what has Biden’s approach been towards terrorism?

Obama and Biden also strengthened cooperation with India to fight terrorism in each of their countries and across the region.

“Biden believes there can be no tolerance for terrorism in South Asia – cross-border or otherwise”, his campaign document says.

While there is not much he said during his time in the administration on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism; New Delhi hopes that he will be carrying forward the legacy of the US administration’s approach towards India-Pakistan when it comes to cross-border terrorism.

The critical question in this is also is how is the Biden administration going to look at China?

Over the last few years, there has been a realization in Washington about China’s aggressive behavior. There is a somewhat bipartisan consensus amongst the Democrats and the Republicans on China as a strategic rival and a threat.

While the Trump administration has been extremely vocal in India’s support in the last six months of the border-stand-off with China, New Delhi will expect a similar approach from the Biden administration.

One will have to wait and watch if Biden follows the same path, but there could be nuances of the language and the rhetoric from US officials.

“A Biden Administration will also work with India to support a rules-based and stable Indo-Pacific region in which no country, including China, can threaten its neighbors with impunity,” his campaign document says.

While Trump administration officials, including Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo had been attacking the Communist Party of China openly, Biden administration’s language might be more calibrated.

Questions related to Indian students and employees What about immigration and visas for Indians, especially H1B visas for skilled professionals?

This has been a significant concern for Indians under the Trump administration. As Democrats are seen to be more liberal on immigration, Biden is expected to be softer towards Indians who go to the US to study, work and live there, and aspire for a better life.

He has promised to support family-based immigration, increase the number of visas offered for permanent, work-based immigration, reform the temporary visa system for high-skill, specialty jobs, and eliminate the limits on employment-based green cards. He has also promised to restore the naturalization process for green cardholders.

But as the Trump administration has tightened the rules, it may not be straightforward for Biden to reverse some of the approaches adopted in the last four years.

What about his attitude towards human rights issues, especially since Kamala Harris, his Vice-President is a fierce advocate for human rights?

This is a significant concern for the Indian government, which has got support from the Trump administration on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Although some US Congressmen and women had raised red flags on the human rights situation following the revoking of Article 370 and passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act alongside the proposed nationwide NRC, yet the Trump administration had not taken any actions beyond making some perfunctory statements.

But with Democrats in power, the Indian government can expect some harsh statements from the Biden administration on these issues.

Biden has been “disappointed by the measures that the Government of India has taken with the implementation and aftermath of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act into law”, the Biden campaign’s policy paper had said.

“As the great and largest democracies, the United States and India are bound together by our shared democratic values: fair and free elections, equality under the law, and the freedom of expression and religion. These core principles have endured throughout each of our nations’ histories and will continue to be the source of our strength in the future,”  Biden’s campaign document says.

How he follows up on his campaign committee will be something to watch out for.

Next and the last question Overall, will he be a good President for India?

Over the last 20 years, every US President – Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump – had differences on many issues, but if there was a common theme on which all of them agreed was this: a stronger relationship with India.

That means that there has been a tradition of bipartisan support in favor of better ties with India, and every US President has made it better than what he inherited from his predecessor over the last two decades.

So, to cut a long story short, there is no reason to believe that Biden will not continue the tradition – but of course, he will have his own style and nuances and put his stamp on the relationship.

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