Biden has lengthy advocated sturdy U.S.-India relationships and is more likely to proceed to take action


Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks the day after Americans vote in the presidential election on November 4, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – Strengthening US ties with India is likely to remain a focus of the Biden administration, experts told CNBC.

Democrat Joe Biden is set to defeat incumbent Donald Trump in the race for the next US president on Saturday, according to NBC News forecasts. Trump has refused to admit, however, and his campaign has raised several legal challenges regarding the tabulation of ballots.

India is one of the few issues where there is convergence between Biden and Trump, and there will likely be continuity in American policy towards the South Asian country, according to Michael Kugelman, assistant director and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center.

He said both men see the US-India partnership as a "strategic imperative". This shared view is rooted "in the bipartisan consensus in Washington that the rivalry between the US and China remains and that New Delhi is a like-minded partner who shares the US goal of equalizing Beijing in the wider region," Kugelman said via E -Mail .

Still, he pointed out in a tweet that Biden "won't make foreign policy (let alone South Asia) an initial priority". Instead, his early focus will be on the home front, addressing issues such as Covid-19, the US economy and reconciliation.

US-India relations under Trump

Under the Trump administration, India-U.S. Relationship has had mixed results.

Tensions mounted on the trade front after the US banned India last year from a long-running program that allowed the South Asian country to export many of its goods to the US without tariffs. In response, India imposed retaliatory tariffs on selected US products.

On the military front, US-India relations have strengthened amid mounting tensions between India and China. Last month, the US and India signed an important defense treaty that Washington normally signs with close allies to give New Delhi access to US satellite data that is vital for targeting missiles and other military assets.

President-elect Biden "has a long history of promoting strong US-India ties," Harsh Pant, director of the strategic studies program at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, told CNBC.

According to Pant, the Indian government was "somewhat reluctant" to develop closer ties with the US during the Obama administration. Today it looks different: In New Delhi there is a "great receptivity" that a strong relationship between the USA and India is important for the "global ambitions" of the South Asian country and for the management of China, which breathes down its neck in the Himalayas "said Pant.

Military Alliance

Earlier this year, India and China were caught in a tense border battle in the Himalayas that killed 20 Indian soldiers. Experts at the time said this was a turning point for India-China relations and could lead New Delhi to develop closer ties with countries like the US while maintaining its strategic autonomy.

India is part of an informal strategic dialogue that includes the US, Japan and Australia known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – commonly known as the Quad. The US State Department describes the Quad's role as "a collective effort to promote a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific".

"While Biden and his advisors did not specifically mention the quad, they are likely to further strengthen that dialogue while working with India in multilateral situations," Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst with the Eurasia Group political risk adviser, told CNBC.

Additionally, Biden's more conventional and predictable style of leadership will mean that New Delhi would have a less mercury partner than Trump in the White House.

Michael Kugelman

The Wilson Center

According to Bery, Biden has long been an advocate for US-India relations.

As chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee in the 2000s, he urged the George W. Bush administration to drop sanctions on India and later helped herd through the civil nuclear deal between the two countries. During the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president, India was also named a key defense partner, according to Bery, which enabled New Delhi to buy more advanced and sensitive technology from the US.

While U.S. defense sales to India would likely continue under the new Biden administration, Bery said in a statement last month that a potential friction point could be New Delhi's plans to buy some sort of surface-to-air missile system from Moscow.

Still, Bery said it was unlikely that the US under Biden would fit directly into the ongoing border dispute between India and China.

Trade and immigration

The Biden government is likely to focus on bilateral relations with India rather than trade specifically, according to Bery. This could mean the US may not restore India's trade privileges under an earlier program that allowed the South Asian country to export many of its goods to the US without tariffs.

Regarding immigration, Bery said Biden's political agenda includes a commitment to reform a visa program that would benefit India.

The Trump administration has cracked down on the H-1B visa program – the skilled worker visa used by immigrants, including Indians who work in the U.S. tech sector. The move has been heavily criticized by US companies that rely on this visa to hire thousands of employees.

Biden will also be more interested in finding new areas of partnership with New Delhi, including topics like climate change, added Kugelman of the Wilson Center.

"Additionally, Biden's more conventional and predictable leadership style will mean that New Delhi would have a less mercurial partner in the White House than it did with Trump," he said.

Human rights

However, experts predicted that a Biden government would be more likely to raise human rights concerns about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, especially if India witnessed more sectarian violence cases such as those seen earlier this year.

"Biden and Congress Democrats would criticize India louder than Trump on human rights," Bery wrote last month. The main concerns include New Delhi's actions against and the imprisonment of politicians in Kashmir as well as "divisive nationalist social policies of the Hindus and anti-Muslim rhetoric".

In one of his political agenda documents, Biden expressed disappointment with New Delhi over its stance on Kashmir, as well as a controversial citizenship law granting citizenship to persecuted non-Muslim minorities who fled Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 2015 The law excludes Muslim minorities who are fleeing persecution and violates India's secular principles.

"These measures contradict the country's long tradition of secularism and the maintenance of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy," the Biden campaign said.


Steven Gregory