Donald Trump and Joe Biden Photograph:( Reuters )
This article looks to decode, who will be a more suitable president for New Delhi
When the United States votes, each and every country, be it Washington's ally or its bitter rival, sets their eyes on it. The November 3 presidential election will also provide clarity on ties between the US and other countries.
After the end of the Cold War era, the relations between India and the United States have started to become warm irrespective of whether a Republican or a Democrat is in power. Similarly, whether Donald Trump gets re-elected or Joe Biden becomes the president, ties between the two nations are likely to remain unaffected if not better. This article, therefore, looks to decode, who will be a more suitable president for New Delhi. It will also look at what has or hasn't been done in the past four years under Trump when it comes to India.
Did India-US ties flourish under Trump?
Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi consistently stressed their fondness for each other. Their bonhomie resulted in first-ever 2+2 dialogue between both the countries at defence and foreign ministry levels. Despite Trump lauding Modi on various occasions, the US president undertook actions against India's preference, which includes actions on Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), H-1B visa and attempts to mediate on Kashmir conflict.
During his tenure, Trump described India as a "tariff king" and removed it from the list of countries with the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), an arrangement to help developing countries with trade. The US president demanded "equitable and reasonable" treatment to US goods in the Indian market. In response, New Delhi also imposed retaliatory tariffs. Various talks were held between New Delhi and Washington, however, no settlement has been reached so far. Trump also raised the issue of high tariffs by India on US motorcycle companies, which were then brought down from 75 per cent to 50 per cent. However, according to Trump, this reduction is "still unacceptable".
Trump's support to 'America First' policy during the 2016 election campaign really appealed to the Americans, though it really received a lot of flak from a lot of economists and supporters of free-market economies. During the tenure of Trump, Indian IT giants in the US, like Wipro and Infosys, were forced to hire more Americans. Due to this, these IT firms rejected a lot of applications and visa renewals as rejection rate on new visas jumped from 6 per cent in FY16 to 44 per cent in FY20 and on renewals rose from 4 per cent in FY16 to 21 per cent in FY20, according to a report by Nomura. H-1B visa allows companies in the US to hire foreign workers for highly specialised roles and since Indians have generally been the biggest beneficiaries of this system, a shift in policy under Trump meant that aspirants from India were hurt the most. In June, Trump extended his earlier order to suspend foreign workers visa till the end of this year in order to provide American jobs in the wake of coronavirus pandemic that led to an adverse effect on several economies. To add insult to injury, the US president signed an executive order in early August that barred US federal agencies to hire foreign workers.
The Indo-US defence ties have strengthened since the era of junior Bush and administrations succeeding him remained on that trajectory. The bilateral defence trade between both the countries was less than US$ 1billion in 2008 and it jumped to US$ 18 billion in 2019, writes Observation Research Foundation, an India-based think tank. The article further adds that US arms exports skyrocketed by more than 550 per cent in the period between 2013-17 as compared to the previous five years. Trump also discontinued Obama administration's freeze of giving unmanned systems to India as New Delhi became Washington's "the first non-treaty partner to be offered an MTCR Category-1 Unmanned Aerial System". Arms exports to India also became easy as Trump passed executive orders to accord India Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) status, which was earlier enjoyed by only two Asian countries, South Korea and Japan.
Other than this, despite Trump's mediation offers in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the administration has stayed away from criticising India's internal matters. Be it abolishing Article 370, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, the US president has repeatedly said that he trusts India's democratic system. It has also seen in Trump's administration that Washington is more comfortable in engaging with New Delhi, than Islamabad and Beijing.
What has Biden in store for India?
"Fifteen years ago, I was leading the efforts to approve the historic civil nuclear deal with India. I said that if the US and India became closer friends and partners, then the world will be a safer place," Biden said, in his address to Indian-American community on India's Independence Day. The watershed moment of the Indo-US ties was the signing of the nuclear deal in 2009 under Obama's presidency. Experts believe that Biden's foreign policy expertise played a significant role in finalising this agreement which means New Delhi will remain a key priority for Washington. During his Independence Day address, Biden also said that he will continue to stand with India on the threats it faces on the border, implying a check on Pakistan and China.
Biden has also said "there can be no tolerance for terrorism in South Asia, cross-border or otherwise," another reference warning Pakistan to not try taking the US for a ride on terrorism.
However, when it comes to Pakistan, when Biden was the vice president, he received Hilal-i-Pakistan, country's second-highest civilian honour. Also, from 2013-16, the US's aid to Pakistan was consistently over USD 630 billion which was brought down to USD 392 billion in 2017 by Trump and remained at similar levels in 2018. So, it remains to be seen whether Biden administration become benevolent to Pakistan than the current administration or not.
Trump is floating a conspiracy theory that China wants Biden to be the president. However, none of the statements from Biden or his campaign has suggested that Beijing can expect any favours from the Democratic presidential candidate. "A Biden administration will also work with India to support a rules-based and stable Indo-Pacific region in which no country, including China, is able to threaten its neighbours with impunity," his campaign has said.
The Indians were the most impacted with Trump's sudden suspension of the H-1B visas and Biden has clarified that the suspension will "not be in this administration". Recognising the contribution of foreign workers, Biden also said if voted to power, giving citizenship to undocumented immigrants will be a priority, including 1.7 million from AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community.
There were eyebrows raised when Biden's campaign website in a policy paper criticised India's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), saying they compromise with India's credentials of a secular and a multi-religious democracy. The criticism was not just limited to CAA, but extended to Kashmir as well. But to imply that Indo-US ties under Biden will get affected because of these issues is reading too much.
So, Indians should read this article and let Americans take a call. After all, New Delhi and Washington know that straining ties with the other will not only be irrational but harm world order too. And, Biden and Trump are likely to be aware of it.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)