Incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris' Indian roots are also likely to act as a positive factor in the overall momentum in the ties, the experts said.
The broad contours of upward trajectory in ties between India and the US under Joe Biden’s presidency will not see any change given the increasing bilateral strategic convergence of interests including in the Indo-Pacific region in view of the challenge posed by China, foreign policy experts said on Sunday
Though the ties between the two democracies will continue to grow, there is a definite possibility of a change in nuance in handling key issues by Biden as he is expected to be less unilateralist on trade and more moderate on immigration and visas, they said.
Incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris’ Indian roots are also likely to act as a positive factor in the overall momentum in the ties, the experts said.
Former Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar said the handling of China and sustaining a balance in Asia will be, perhaps, the most important international challenge for Biden, and countries like India will play an important role in this.
“I think the upward trajectory of our strategic relations will continue. There is a bipartisan consensus in the US to have a strong relationship with India, whether it is a Republican or a Democratic administration,” Shankar told PTI.
“And it will be the same under Biden presidency because what is driving India-US relations is the growing strategic convergence in the Indo Pacific, particularly the challenge posed by China which is becoming increasingly assertive and even aggressive as we have seen on our border with Ladakh, in the South China Sea and the East China Sea,” she said.
Talking about various dimensions of the ties, Shankar, who was Indian envoy to the US from 2009 to 2011, said it is possible Biden may place more emphasis on human rights and democratic freedoms.
“We must learn to be nimble enough domestically so that we are not open to criticism over what we are doing in Kashmir. After all the government itself has said that they are willing to consider restoring statehood for J-K if the situation improves,” she said.
“We have to move towards restoring normal democratic functioning in Kashmir over the medium and long run. Biden would be less unilateralist on trade and, hopefully, more moderate on immigration and visas. The strategic, defence and counter-terrorism cooperation would, I expect, continue to grow,” Shankar said.
Ambassador (retd) Rakesh Sood, who was Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, said India-US relations have enjoyed bipartisan support both in Washington and Delhi but added that there could be some change in focus under the Biden administration.
“As a long-standing Senator and as Vice President, President-elect Joe Biden has played a role in shaping the positive trajectory of the relationship.
“At different moments during the three decades, different issues have gained prominence. So there will be some changes in focus but I am confident that the positive momentum will be maintained,” he said.
Ambassador (retd) Vivek Katju too said the upward trajectory of the ties will continue but noted that the relationship in the security and strategic sphere is likely to depend on Biden’s approach towards China.
Former Indian Ambassador to Russia P S Raghavan said President-elect Biden was very much part of the development of the relationship under President Barack Obama when the Indo-Pacific partnership between the two countries took off.
As Vice President in the Obama administration, Biden played a role in shaping the positive trajectory of the relationship with India.
“I see continuing and absolutely no hiccups along the way. There will definitely be a change in nuance in the approach.
“There was a great deal of emphasis on the strategic dimension of the relations under President Donald Trump which will continue under Biden,” he said.
In her observation, Ambassador Shankar also referred to strong trade relations, people-to-people ties as well as Harris’ Indian roots.
“For all these reasons the two countries will continue to be invested in each other. There may be different nuances and different issues which get emphasis within this broad framework.
“There are upsides and downsides under different leaders. President Trump was, for instance, good for us in the strategic, defence and counter-terrorism realm,” Shankar said.
“But he proved a difficult customer on trade and the economic relationship, withdrawing GSP for our exports, imposing punitive tariffs on our steel and aluminium exports and toughening the handling of H1B and L1 visas, hitting at the competitiveness of our IT companies,” she added.
The export of certain goods to the US was previously allowed in the duty-free category under a special trade scheme called the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
There are also economic drivers to the relationship with India set to be one of the high growth large markets of the future and could emerge as the third-largest global economy.
“For India, the US is the largest single export market and our high tech companies have grown on the strength of their linkages with the US market,” she said.
Biden has been a strong supporter of the India-US partnership, first as a Senator (1973-2008) and later as Vice President (2009-2016).
As a senator and as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he consistently lent his support to several resolutions in support of India.
As Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden worked towards the US Senate’s approval of the US-India civil nuclear agreement in 2008 and co-sponsored several legislations on countering terrorism.
When India and the US began negotiations to conclude a civilian nuclear deal, Senator Biden was a critical ally for India in the Senate. He travelled to India with then-Senators Chuck Hagel and John Kerry in early 2008 before the US Congress approved the nuclear deal with India.
Biden was a consistent proponent of the deal and certainly was critical to its success.
He was also supportive of India’s aspiration to play a more active role in the global arena and called for a new framework that would give a seat at the high table to all major players in Asia including India.
As the Vice President, Biden visited India from July 22-25, 2013 on a four-day official visit accompanied by his wife Jill Biden.
He had called on the then President Pranab Mukherjee, met the then Vice President Hamid Ansari and visited Gandhi Smriti Museum in Delhi.
He had also visited Mumbai to meet business leaders at a round table and delivered a policy speech at the Bombay Stock Exchange.