Biden Expected to Stress Human Rights with India While Expanding Ties: Report

NEW YORK, Dec 29 (APP): US President-elect Joseph Biden is most likely to pay more attention to India’s “contentious” domestic developments, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing party is becoming overtly hostile toward Muslim minorities, but at the same time continue to expand Washington-Delhi ties, according to American foreign policy experts.

The outgoing Trump administration had significantly invested in its relationship with India over the past four years, seeing the country as a crucial partner in counterbalancing the rise of China, The New York Times said in a dispatch, citing experts. Military cooperation and a personal friendship between President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — both domineering nationalists — have pushed New Delhi and Washington closer, it was pointed out.

Now, as Biden is set to move into the White House, American diplomats, Indian officials and security experts are resetting their expectations for relations between the two countries. Some experts, according to the Times, were of the view that the United States cannot afford to drastically alter its policy toward New Delhi because the US needs its help to counter China and increasingly values India as a military and trade partner.

“Most experts agree that China will be the driving force behind how India’s relationship with Washington morphs in a Biden administration,” the report said. “We need India for various reasons,” Ashley Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think-tank was quoted as saying. “Most important of which is balancing Chinese power in Asia.”

This year, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the worst border clash between India and China in decades, for which New Delhi was reportedly held responsible. As relations between New Delhi and Beijing soured, India strengthened its commitment to a multilateral partnership with the United States, India, Japan and Australia — known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, the Times pointed out. China has criticized this forum, calling it as an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Biden, who once spoke optimistically of China’s emergence “as a great power,” has become increasingly tough on Beijing, and the Times, citing some analysts, said his administration would most likely use the Quad as a way to ensure that the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region does not tilt too far toward China.

“But some Indian officials are concerned that the next administration will not be as tough on China as the current one and that Mr. Biden will adopt a more nuanced and less favourable position toward India,” the Times said, citing analysts.

Noting that Biden’s administration will inherit a growing military relationship with India, the report said that in recent months, the United States and India have shared more intelligence and conducted more coordinated military training exercises, with military cooperation the closest among the navies of the two countries.

“The United States has been trying to increase arms sales to India, but the country’s history of buying weapons from nations such as France, Israel and Russia, has complicated that effort,” the dispatch said.

American officials, it said, are concerned about providing equipment to India if there is a risk that members of the Russian military or other foreign agents would then have access to it. American and Indian officials signed an agreement to share real-time geographical data through satellite images when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited India in October.

“Despite the warming ties, though, Indian officials also worry that Mr. Biden might be less critical of Pakistan, the country’s arch rival, than Mr. Trump has been,” the Times said. “Mr. Biden may even reach out to Islamabad for support as the United States draws down troops in Afghanistan.”

Early in his presidency, President Trump suspended military aid to Pakistan, and accused it of supporting terrorists. “In contrast, Mr. Trump has said little about the increasing hostility toward Muslims in India and the divisive politics of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party,” the Times said, adding that the Trump administration had kept largely quiet about Modi’s crackdown on Kashmir last year and the passage of a new, blatantly anti-Muslim citizenship law as well as the recent pro-market agricultural policies that have fueled a farmer rebellion and stirred up more anti-government feeling.

“Both Mr. Biden — who is considered a strong friend of India since his days as a senator, when he worked to approve the country’s landmark civil nuclear agreement in 2008 — and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are likely to be more critical of India’s human rights record, both in private and in public,” the Times said, citing experts.

“Ms. Harris, whose mother was Indian and who has remained close to that side of her family, has already indicated that she is concerned about Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim area that has long been a flash point between India and Pakistan,” the dispatch said. “Mr. Biden’s campaign documents specifically called on the Indian government to ‘take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people’ in Kashmir. His campaign added that he was also ‘disappointed’ in Mr. Modi’s citizenship law.

“Some activists in the United States want the Biden administration to go even further and warn Indian officials that discontent over some of its current policies could imperil how strong a partner India might be for the United States.”

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