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SOURCE:  The Tribune

JOSEPH Biden Jr. will soon take over as the 46th President of the United States. There is some consternation as many critics are not sure how the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris duo will react to the human rights situation, particularly in Kashmir. Also, that he will be ‘soft’ on China which may recoil on India in its current military confrontation with that country.

Biden is a seasoned and skilful politician, who for decades has served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including as its chair. Second, he is calm, contemplative and a team leader who will listen to and go by the professional advice of the US establishment — including the State, Defence, National and Homeland Security, CIA, Trade and other departments. His long innings as the Vice President in two terms of President Obama unambiguously authenticate this view.

In an article, Why America must lead again, in the Foreign Affairs journal in March this year, Biden wrote that President Trump had diminished the credibility and influence of the US by abdicating the American leadership, indulging in ill-advised trade wars which had hurt its own consumers and undermining and abandoning its allies which are America’s biggest strength.

The post-Covid world will be very different from 2016 when the Obama-Biden duo left. China’s economy has made huge strides during this period. However, much of China’s economic growth is based on extensive use of unfair trade practices, including denial of market access, stealing of foreign technologies, subsidies to its state-owned industries and others.

China’s swift growth has been accompanied by massive modernisation of its military, including manufacture of fifth generation of fighter and stealth aircraft, long- and medium-range missiles, hypersonic and artificial intelligence (AI)-based weapons, destroyers and aircraft carriers.

Similarly, China has made considerable progress in other emerging technologies like 5G, quantum computing, new materials, robotics and space weapons. The rapidly growing China is now challenging the economic and military pre-eminence of the US in Asia. It has launched aggression against a number of countries allied or getting closer to the US such as India, Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia and others and is trying to divide the transatlantic alliance.

Biden has said that he would constitute a “united front of the US, its allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviour and human rights violations” and “place US back at the head of the table” to mobilise collective action on global threats. “When we join together with fellow democracies, our strength more than doubles. China can’t afford to ignore more than half the global economy,” he argued. Germany, France and leaders of the European Union have welcomed Biden’s election promising to work together on China and other challenges.

Though the aggressive rhetoric of Trump administration may change as Biden seeks China’s collaboration on climate change, non-proliferation and control of infectious diseases, the US and its allies will take collective action against China’s unfair trade policies, as per the Biden team. The US sanctions on export of sensitive technologies to China are likely to continue.

In his earlier avatars, Biden played an important role in the passage of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal in the Congress (2005) and later when the Obama administration declared India as a ‘major defence partner’ (2016). With the signing of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) recently, India has established close linkages with the US security architecture. Its large growing economy, professional armed forces and stout determination to resist China have augmented its strategic value. In its pursuit of multipolar world, India can play a critical role in checking the growth of China’s hegemony and its domination of Asia.

Biden made it clear in his Foreign Affairs essay that he would “fortify the USA’s collective capabilities with democratic friends by reinvesting in its treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea and deepening partnerships from India to Indonesia to advance shared values in a region that will determine the USA’s future.”

Biden has promised to invest in improving America’s competitiveness, pull down trade barriers, resist the slide towards protectionism and give more emphasis to fair trade. Given the rising trade deficit and unemployment in the US, it is likely that there will be some tough negotiations with India on issues such as high tariffs, market access, levy of taxes on US technological giants like Amazon and Google, but in an amicable manner without resorting to threats and tariffs.

On issues relating to immigration, H1B visas and the studies of Indian students in US universities, Biden is likely to be more positive though keeping in view unemployment in his own country.

Some Biden advisers have stated that he would raise human rights issues with India like Obama. This will be more in the nature of a dialogue among friendly states and would not be the main driver of his overall policy given New Delhi’s sensitivities and the importance attached to strategic issues confronting the two countries.

Biden has stated that his administration would stand with India against the threats it faces from its own region and along its borders. Given the above template, it is likely that India would find greater resonance on Pakistan’s support of terrorism, a continued US role in the fight against terror groups in Afghanistan and on resuming a nuclear deal with Iran.

Similarly, his stand on re-joining the Paris climate change agreement, convening a summit of democracies to discuss issues of common interest, meetings of major carbon emitters to reduce harmful emissions and control of infectious diseases would be of considerable interest to India. Summing up, India is likely to get more strategic space and a greater sympathetic understanding of its concerns from the Biden administration than that of President Trump.