New challenges: On India and Joe Biden

With the late night call on Tuesday between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President-elect Joseph Biden done, Indian and U.S. officials can begin their formal interactions on the future of bilateral relations. The two leaders listed out their priorities, according to separate statements issued by the External Affairs Ministry and the Biden-Harris transition team. According to the readouts, the leaders committed to strengthening the Indo-U.S. Comprehensive “Global” Strategic Partnership, and cooperating on global challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic, affordable vaccines, climate change and the Indo-Pacific region. Mr. Biden’s readout also included “strengthening democracy at home and abroad”, which was dropped from the MEA version, indicating New Delhi’s discomfort. Critical and recent comments made by Mr. Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris over Jammu and Kashmir, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and actions against NGOs should not make the Modi government shy from engaging with the U.S. on these issues.

Most remarkably, the leaders did not dwell on traditional security issues, global terrorism, conflict regions or even trade, but instead charted areas for Indo-U.S. cooperation that are more in line with their current challenges and indicate Mr. Biden’s own immediate priorities. On COVID-19, Mr. Biden and Mr. Modi have their work cut out, given that the U.S. (over 11 million cases) and India (over 8 million cases) remain the top two worst affected countries, and showing daily increases. Making affordable vaccines available to their afflicted populations will be the immediate challenge. On the need for economic recovery, their projected policies do not appear to be too divergent. Unveiling his administration’s economic revival policy, Mr. Biden announced a plan to “Buy American”, and to ensure no government contract goes to companies that do not make their products in America. The Modi government has already launched its “Atmanirbhar Bharat” programme on similar lines, with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar making it clear that the globalised economy and trading arrangements have been assessed as detrimental to India’s manufacturing industry. On climate change, a decision by the U.S. to re-enter the Paris Accord will be welcomed by India, that is also hoping to promote cooperation on the International Solar Alliance that it co-founded in 2016 with France. But it is unclear if Mr. Biden would revive the earlier U.S. promises of funding green technology that Mr. Trump cancelled when he walked out of the Paris Accord. Finally, it is significant that Mr. Biden expressed his commitment to the Indo-Pacific policy, but New Delhi will be keen to see just what shape the new administration intends to take in its measures to maintain a “secure and prosperous” Indo-Pacific, and how far the Biden Administration will challenge China’s moves in the region.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 1:50:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/new-challenges-the-hindu-editorial-on-india-and-the-joe-biden-administration/article33127567.ece

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