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Explained: In Team Biden’s recent statements, a sense of US approach to India

A look through Blinken’s statements in the last few months gives a sense of his approach towards India.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: December 1, 2020 1:02:02 pm
Antony Blinken. (File Photo)

Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden’s closest foreign policy adviser, was on Monday nominated for Secretary of State, and Jake Sullivan a National Security Advisor.

Blinken, 58, a former Deputy Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, began his career at the State Department during the Clinton administration. Sullivan, 43, succeeded Blinken as Vice President Biden’s National Security Adviser, and served as the Head of Policy Planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton.

A look through Blinken’s statements in the last few months gives a sense of his approach towards India.

High priority relationship

On July 9, Blinken spoke at the Hudson Institute, Washington DC. “Strengthening and deepening the relationship with India is going to be a very high priority. It’s usually important to the future of the Indo-Pacific and the kind of order that we all want; it’s fair, stable, and hopefully increasingly democratic and it’s vital to being able to tackle some of these big global challenges,” he said.

“By the way, I think this has been over Republican and Democratic administrations’ success story, going back to the Clinton administration, the Bush administration and then the Obama-Biden administration,” he said.

BIDEN’S CONTRIBUTION: “During the Bush administration, then Senator Biden partnered with that administration to help get the peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement, the 123 agreement through the United States Senate, usually important to solidifying our relationship,” Blinken said.

DEFENCE COOPERATION: Blinken talked about the Obama administration making India a “major defence partner”. This epithet was the first time a US administration gave anyone outside its traditional partners. “In our own administration, during the Obama-Biden administration, there was concrete progress across a whole series of initiatives and efforts under both Prime Minister Singh and then under Prime Minister Modi. There was this defence technology and trade initiative. The idea there was to kind of strengthen India’s defence industrial base and that then paved the way for American and Indian companies to work together to produce important technology. We made India a so-called major defence partner,” Blinken said.

PARIS PACT: “Having sort of set that foundation and made the relationship stronger, guess what? We then worked hard to persuade India that it would be more prosperous and more secure if it’s signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement. We succeeded… It was a challenging effort but Vice President Biden was one of the leaders of the effort to convince our partners in India and they did. I think that’s a reflection, again, of the fact that we cannot solve common global challenges without India as part of the deal,” Blinken said. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Kashmir & CAA

Blinken flagged concerns on the human rights situation in Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act. “Now, we obviously have challenges now and real concerns, for example, about some of the actions that the government has taken particularly in cracking down on freedom of movement and freedom of speech in Kashmir, some of the laws on citizenship but you’re always better engaging with a partner and a vitally important one like India, when you can speak frankly and directly about areas where you have differences even as you’re working to build greater cooperation and strengthen the relationship going forward,” Blinken said.

India role in UN

On August 15, Blinken again participated in a panel discussion on Indo-US ties, and flagged the issue of UN reforms. “In a Biden administration, we would be an advocate for India to play a leading role in international institutions and that includes helping India get a seat on a United Nations Security Council,” he said.

China challenge

“We have a common challenge which has to deal with an increasingly assertive China across the board, including its aggression toward India at the Line of Actual Control but also using its economic might to coerce others and reap unfair advantage,” Blinken said. “I think you’d see Joe Biden as president investing in ourselves, renewing our democracy, working with our close partners like India, asserting our values and engaging China from a position of strength. India has to be a key partner in that effort,” he said.

Cross-border terrorism

Blinken also addressed New Delhi’s concern of cross-border terrorism, without naming Pakistan. “We would work together to strengthen India’s defence and also I might add its capabilities as a counterterrorism partner. On the question of terrorism, specifically, we have no tolerance for terrorism, in South Asia or anywhere else: cross-border or otherwise,” he said.

Also in Explained | Why President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to weigh in on Jammu and Kashmir

Biden’s vision 2020

Blinken quoted Biden from 2006 — just before he was going to take charge as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007-2009 — “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States.” He said, “We are not quite there, but it’s a terrific vision… Joe Biden sees the United States in India as natural partners, and that’s the vision he would help to make real as President.”

Sullivan on India

In an interview to The New Yorker in February 2019, Sullivan was asked about dealing with the Narendra Modi government. He made the point that the US needs to engage with the Modi government, balancing American interests and values.

“I might nitpick a word here or a word there, but the basic idea that we’re going to deal with the Prime Minister of India, despite the horrific acts that he had overseen in his home state when he was the Chief Minister, I cannot disagree with that policy decision. I don’t believe that it was tenable for the American President to simply say, ‘We ban him from coming to the US. We don’t like him and we will not deal with him.’. I don’t think that’s tenable,” Sullivan said.

“Therefore, in my view, the way the United States should talk about these issues is to say not that we perfectly live up to our values in every circumstance but that we always work to take them into account in our decision-making, in a sincere and real way, and that alone, in my view, for a great power, is impressive enough. As long as we are sincere and real in doing that and actually having the hard conversations internally. How do we handle this Modi thing? This does bother us. This is a problem. What is the best balance? As long as that is baked into the serious, sober reflection of how best to manage our interests and values, then I think American foreign policy is on the right track. It’s when we just say we’re setting that aside because it doesn’t even matter that I think we start to head down a dark path, and that’s the path that I think the Trump Administration has put us on,” he said.

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