Script By: Ashok Sajjanhar, President, Institute of Global Studies.
President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 9th February 2021. Both leaders had a wide-ranging and substantive conversation which was the first interaction between them after Biden assumed the Presidency of USA on 20th January 2021. Barring Russian President Putin whom Biden had called on 26th January primarily to extend the New START nuclear Treaty, PM Modi is the first global leader who is not an alliance partner of the USA to receive a call from President Biden.
This was the second conversation between Modi and Biden after the election on 3rd November 2020, the first having taken place on 17th November 2020, soon after the election results became evident. The two leaders then agreed to expand cooperation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and the Indo-Pacific region. They reiterated their firm commitment to the Indo-US strategic partnership.
Issues discussed in the first conversation were taken forward in greater detail in the dialogue on 9th February 2021.
On the climate change issue, PM Modi confirmed that he was looking forward to participating in the Climate Leaders’ Summit that Biden is organizing in April 2021.
For some time, there has been considerable unease at the posture that Biden will adopt while dealing with China. Initially, Biden had termed China as a ‘competitor’ and Russia as a ‘threat.’ While introducing General Lloyd Austen, his nominee for Secretary of Defense, Biden had used the term ‘Asia-Pacific’ and not Indo-Pacific. He also failed to mention the Quad. Moreover, while delivering his first Address on Foreign Policy at the State Department on 4th February 2021, Biden did not once mention India or for that matter Indo-Pacific or the Quad.
However, Biden’s discussions with PM Modi and the readout issued by the White House thereafter have put all such doubts to rest. The White House document clearly states that the leaders agreed to ‘’continue close cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity and for a stronger regional architecture through the Quad.’’ Managing the rise of China so that it emerges as a responsible stakeholder in international affairs is imperative for both India and USA as also a whole host of other countries in the neighbourhood and beyond. The value addition that Biden brings to the table is that he will not follow a ‘Go It Alone’ approach like Trump but will try to deal with the China challenge through a multilateral effort in alliance with friendly countries and partners. India and the USA can play a special role in the pushback against China in multiple spheres.
In addition to the three issues discussed on 17th November, the two leaders also referred to rebuilding the global economy to help the people of both the countries and to fight the scourge of global terrorism.
Both countries can be expected to work vigorously to conclude the Mini-Trade deal that has been under discussion for some time. This will give a strong fillip to bilateral ties particularly in the context of India having recently abandoned the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
Terrorism is an issue that affects India, USA and most other countries of the world. Pakistan has emerged as the epicentre of terrorism in recent years. Benefits of India and America jointly putting their weight behind eradicating the menace of terrorism will be huge.
Safeguarding and promoting democracy binds the two countries together. President Biden underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world. It can be expected that the Biden administration will apply greater pressure on China for violation of human rights and persecution of minorities in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Tibet, Southern Mongolia, Hong Kong and for its military coercion against Japan and Taiwan.
India and USA are expected to further deepen their relationship on issues relating to Afghanistan, Iran, immigration including H1B visas and others.
Strong bipartisan support exists in both India and the USA for a more dynamic and robust India-USA global strategic partnership. The telephonic conversation between the two leaders will take this collaboration to ever newer heights.