Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Why India should consider the next US administration’s approach to China


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- US Presidential election and Implications for India

Though it is the election held in the US for the election of the US President, it is closely followed throughout the world given the dominant position of that country in the world and impact of the US Presidents decision on the world. This article analyses the implications for India in both the scenarios re-election of Trump or Joe Biden winning the election.

Implications for India

  • Broader foreign policy decisions will have significant implications for India.
  • Particularly consequential will be how a second Trump administration or a Biden administration perceive and approach China and, relatedly, the question of America’s role in the world.
  • The outcome will depend on the choices that the next American president makes on key personnel and policies.

Analysing Trump administration’s approach to China from India’s perspective

  • The Trump administration’s more hawkish view of China broadly converges with Indian concerns about a rising China’s actions and intentions.
  • And it has facilitated the Trump administration to assign India an important role in its strategic framework, including through the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept.
  • This has laid the basis for defence and security cooperation, helped to manage differences with Delhi on trade, Russia, Iran, and human rights, and vocal American support for India in the ongoing crisis with China.
  • Unlike India’s subtler approach to highlighting Beijing’s malign behaviour, the administration’s more explicit one has put a global spotlight on Chinese assertiveness.
  • However, there are aspects of President Trump’s China approach that have caused concerns in Delhi.
  • There has been concern about Trump striking a deal with Chinese leader Xi Jinping since summit in April 2017.
  • The administration subsequently pivoted to competition with China that summer.
  • Concerns have also been raised due to neglect in the Trump administration of developments related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Huawei/ZTE.
  • The other aspects of Trump’s China approach that have given Delhi pause are its ideological dimensions, as well as responses like tariffs that have hurt India too.
  • On the similar lines American withdrawal from international institutions and agreements that has served to benefit Beijing.
  • The China prism has had its limits — it has not, for instance, resulted in concessions to India on trade and immigration.

What would be Joe Biden’s to approach towards China and implications for India

  • And there is recognition among most Democrats that the US-China relationship today is different from what it was in 2009, 2012 or 2016.
  • An Obama administration China hand noted that opinion in the US on approach to China has “moved from balancing co-operation and competition, to competition and confrontation”.
  • But what a Biden administration sees as the terms of strategic competition with China and how it might choose to blend in cooperation will have implications for India.
  • Its outcome will depend in part on the president’s views, who holds key foreign and economic policy positions, as well as Beijing’s approach.
  • India will closely watch how Biden might respond to any overtures from Beijing.
  • It will particularly worry about any signs that Washington would be willing to limit competition or criticism in return for Chinese cooperation on certain administration priorities.
  • More broadly, it will look at whether Biden administration’s Asia policy derives from its China policy or vice versa.
  • Other aspects of Biden’s preferred approach might suit India, for instance:
  • 1) acting collectively with allies and partners rather than unilaterally,
  • 2) Not imposing tariffs that hit allies and partners along with China,
  • 3) Recommitting to international organisations in ways that could blunt Chinese influence.
  • India might also broadly approve of — and could benefit from — the 3Ds of a Biden foreign policy: Domestic (renewal), deterrence, and democracy.
  •  If a Biden administration sees engagement with China on climate change, global health security and non-proliferation as a priority that will complicate the Indian government’s options and require adjustments.
  • Moreover, with either Trump or Biden, foreign economic policy choices and budgetary ones for example, spending at home versus abroad will have crucial implications for India.


India will need to consider what America’s choice on November 3 will mean for American power and purpose — because assessments of that could determine how Beijing decides to act in the region and globally.

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