WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has invested heavily in its relationship with India over the past four years, viewing the country as a vital partner to offset the rise of China.
Military cooperation and personal friendship between President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – both dominant nationalists – have brought New Delhi and Washington closer together.
Now that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is about to move into the White House, American diplomats, Indian officials and security experts are resetting their expectations of relations between the world’s two largest democracies.
On the one hand, experts say, Mr Biden’s government will most likely pay more attention to the controversial domestic developments in India, where Mr Modi’s right-wing party has steadily consolidated power and is openly hostile to Muslim minorities. Mr Trump has largely turned a blind eye.
Others believe that the United States cannot afford to drastically change its policy on New Delhi because the United States needs your help to counter China and increasingly values India as a military and trading partner.
“The real opening between the United States and India began under President Clinton, it accelerated under President Bush, it continued under President Obama and it accelerated again under our President, President Trump,” said Stephen Biegun, assistant secretary of state. said in October. “One of the constants in US-India relations has been that every presidential administration here in the US has left the relationship in an even better condition than the one it inherited.”
Most experts agree that China will be the driving force behind how India’s relationship with Washington changes in a Biden government.
“We need India for several reasons,” said Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The most important of these is the balance of Chinese power in Asia.”
That year, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the worst border conflict between India and China in decades. As relations between New Delhi and Beijing deteriorated, India stepped up its commitment to a multilateral partnership with the United States, India, Japan and Australia – known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad.
China has castigated this forum as an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, aimed directly at reconciling its interests. India, suspicious of formal alliances and disruptive trade ties with Beijing, was initially reluctant to fully engage.
Mr. Biden, who was once optimistic about China’s rise “as a great power,” has gotten tougher on Beijing, and some analysts said its government would most likely use the quad as a means to maintain the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region not leaning far to China.
“They’ll keep the quad going,” he said Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, added that the partnership was no longer seen as “meeting in search of an agenda,” but as something real, doing things.
However, some Indian officials are concerned that the next government will not be as tough on China as the current one and that Mr Biden will take a more nuanced and less favorable stance on India, analysts said.
The transition of the president
“If it takes a softer approach with China, New Delhi will consider a soft alliance,” he said Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Center for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi.
Mr Biden’s government will inherit a growing military relationship with India. In recent months, the United States and India have exchanged more information and conducted more coordinated military training exercises. Military cooperation is closest between the two countries’ navies; Kenneth J. Braithwaite, Secretary of the Navy, visited India last week.
The United States has tried to increase arms sales to India, however the country’s history of buying arms from nations like France, Israel and Russia has complicated this effort. American officials are concerned about making equipment available to India if there is a risk that Russian military personnel or other foreign agents may have access to it. American and Indian officials signed one Agreement to share geographic data in real time through satellite imagery when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited India in October.
However, despite the warming relationship, Indian officials also fear that Mr Biden is less critical of Pakistan, the country’s arch-rival, than Mr Trump. Mr Biden can even turn to Islamabad for assistance while the United States withdraws troops in Afghanistan. At the beginning of his presidency Mr Trump suspended military aid to Pakistanand accused them of supporting terrorists and giving the United States “nothing but lies and deceit”.
In contrast, Mr Trump said little about the growing hostility towards Muslims in India and the divisive policies of Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. The Trump administration has remained largely silent about Mr Modi’s crackdown on Kashmir last year and the passage of a new, apparently anti-Muslim citizenship bill. And Mr Modi’s recent market-friendly agricultural policy has sparked a peasant uprising that has confused daily life in the capital and increased sentiment against the government.
Both Mr Biden, who has been a strong friend of India since he was a senator when he worked to approve the country’s landmark civilian nuclear deal in 2008, and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris are likely more critical of the people of India, according to experts, according to experts known both privately and publicly.
Ms. Harris, whose mother was Indian and who is close to this family, has already hinted that she is concerned about Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim area that has long been a focal point between India and Pakistan.
Mr Biden’s campaign documents specifically urged the Indian government to “take all necessary steps to restore the rights of all people” in Kashmir. His campaign added that he was also “disappointed” with Mr. Modi’s citizenship law.
Some activists in the United States want the Biden administration to go further, and Indian officials are warning that dissatisfaction with some of their current policies could jeopardize how strong a partner India could be for the United States.
“Human rights are just as important,” he said Simran Noor, the chair of South Asian Americans Leading Together, an advocacy group in the United States. “The effects of non-compliance could lead to much worse conditions in the future.”
Another challenging topic is visas. Mr Trump suspended H-1B visas for highly skilled workers this year, a major setback for American tech companies that employ many Indians and the wider Indian diaspora in the United States.
The two countries also struggled to sign a comprehensive trade agreement. Talks over imports of American dairy products and medical devices such as coronary stents have been suspended. After two decades of India easing its trade restrictions, Western officials said the country had tightened them over the past two years and joined Mr Modi’s drive for a “separate India”.
And many of Mr Biden’s priorities – including climate change – will most likely require India’s cooperation to ensure that New Delhi remains in sight for Mr Biden’s chief diplomats.
“There is no relationship between two countries today that is as important as the relationship between the US and India,” he said Nisha D. Biswal, Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. “Neither of us can do it alone.”
Pranshu Verma reported from Washington and Jeffrey Gettleman from Mumbai, India.