The broad trajectory of strategic and defence cooperation between India and the US is expected to expand under Joe Biden’s presidency in the face of growing challenges emanating from China, former diplomats and security experts said on Wednesday as the Democrat became the 46th President of the United States. Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, said during a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the US would stay tough on China and described India as a bipartisan success story.
Former diplomat Arun Singh, who served as Indian envoy to the US during 2015-16, said the challenges being faced by India from China and the threat the US sees from the economic, technological and military rise of the communist nation will certainly provide some space for the two countries to “do more together”. “With the convergence of interests between the two countries in different areas, especially in the Indo-Pacific, I would expect the cooperation only to get strengthened,” Singh told PTI.
Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, a distinguished fellow at leading think-tank Gateway House, said the trend of forward movement in overall ties witnessed in the last 20 years is expected to continue. “But we will have to watch how America’s Asia Policy and China policy actually evolve in the coming months because there is a lot of uncertainty about these two particular policies and their interplay will actually impact India-US relations. So let us wait and watch,” the former diplomat said.
Bhatia said the strategic cooperation between the two nations is bound to expand in the Indo-Pacific, a region that has been witnessing increasing Chinese military assertiveness in the last few years. “It is a classic case where the US needs India, having already declared that China is their principal rival, and India also certainly needs the US given the current geopolitical situation in Asia. I think we certainly can expect defence and security cooperation (between India and the US) to go up,” Bhatia said.
Noted strategic affairs expert G Parthasarthi said Biden’s policies reflect concerns over China’s behaviour against many countries in recent years, and both India and the US will have to act in their own interests. “A number of Asian countries are facing pressure from China. This is a strange phenomenon in the Xi Jinping era…The fact is that neither India nor the US, in my view, want a tense relationship with China but they have to act in their own interests,” he said.
Former Deputy Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen (retd) Subrata Saha said the broad direction of the strategic ties between the two countries will remain the same and their cooperation will witness further momentum. Asked about the possibility of the US imposing sanctions on India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for the purchase of S-400 missile defences from Russia, Saha said top American officials have been taking a “pragmatic view” on the issue.
“You cannot wish away overnight the fact that we have this huge dependency on Russia. So whether you put CAATSA or you don’t put, if we have to bring our capability to the fore, we have to have all the channels open. Ultimately India will take decisions based on its own strategic interests,” he said. “To expect that India will start compromising its strategic necessities because of another government’s policy, I do not think it is a reasonable assumption or fair expectation,” he said.
The US imposed sanctions on Turkey recently under the CAATSA for the purchase of S-400 missile defences from Russia. Singh hoped that India and the US will be able to find a way to have some kind of a limited trade agreement and then build further on that.
At the same time, he said, the US has had difficulty in its trade relations with not just India but also other countries including its partners in Europe. “It has had issues at times with Japan and with Canada,” he said.
India and the US under the Trump administration held multiple rounds of negotiations for a trade deal, but it did not fructify. Outgoing US ambassador Kenneth Juster, who is leaving India on completion of his tenure, earlier this month referred to frictions and frustrations on trade and investment ties between India and the US and said the two countries were even unable to finalise a small trade package despite persistent efforts.