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What Joe Biden's rise to presidency means for pain points in India-US ties

While the ties between the India and US will continue to grow, there is a possibility of a change in the handling of key issues by the Joe Biden administration.
Nov 9, 2020 / 03:04 PM IST

Since his days as a senator in the 1970s, US President-elect Joe Biden has been a strong proponent of closer India-US ties. The former vice president of the US played an important part in the development of Indo-Pacific partnership that took off under the Barack Obama administration.

Biden expressed his views on India-US relationship at multiple platforms during his election campaign as well. "We'll continue to value the US-India relationship. For Donald Trump, it's photo-ops. For me, it's getting things done," Biden said in his op-ed, in which he reflected on his track record in respect t0 India-US ties.

While the ties between the two democracies will continue to grow, there is a possibility of a change in handling of key issues, as Biden's stance may differ from the previous Donald Trump administration on several key issues.

China

Relations with China and sustaining a balance in Asia will be an important international challenge for Biden. India is likely to play an important role in this in the wake of China's aggression at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.

Trump's four years in power have been the worst for China-US relations. Trump pushed aggressively on all aspects of the US-China ties, including his relentless trade war, challenging Chinese military hold on the disputed South China Sea, constant threats to Taiwan, and calling the novel coronavirus 'China virus'.

Biden's tenure could usher in a buffering period for already-tense China-US relations and offer an opportunity for rebuilding mutual strategic trust between the two countries. However, the US-China policy vis-à-vis India is likely to remain unchanged.

"The US and India will stand together against terrorism in all its forms and work together to promote a region of peace and stability where neither China nor any other country threatens its neighbours. We'll open markets and grow the middle class in both the US and India, and confront other international challenges together, like climate change, global health, transnational terrorism, and nuclear proliferation," Biden had said during his campaign.

Immigration and visa

Biden plans to increase the number of high-skilled visas, including the H-1B, and eliminate the limit on employment-based visas by country, both of which are expected to benefit tens of thousands of Indian professionals  impacted by some immigration policies of the outgoing Trump administration.

Biden is expected to reverse the Trump's move which revoked work permits to the spouses of H-1B visa holders, adversely impacting a large number of Indian families in the US.

Biden has also vowed to work towards providing a roadmap to American citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants, including over 5,00,000 from India.

"As a largely immigrant community, but in some cases with American roots reaching back generations, Indian-Americans know firsthand the strength and resilience that immigrants bring to the United States of America," said the policy document issued by the Biden campaign.

"He (Biden) will immediately begin working with Congress to pass legislative immigration reform that modernises our system, with a priority on keeping families together by providing a roadmap to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants - including more than 500,000 from India," it said.

Kashmir

According to G Parthasarathy, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, Democrats could have reservations on Kashmir as Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2019 revoked article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir that guaranteed its partial autonomy.

"The election of President Joe Biden does not change things materially, but it is a fact that the Democrats are a political party and there are sections within the party who could have reservations on Kashmir and the developments there post-August 5, 2019. Not that they have said anything so far but that could be a bone of contention. Democrats have a view on Kashmir," Parthasarathy said.

Notably, many supporters of the BJP were upset with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she expressed concern about Kashmir. "We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands," she had said.

Additionally, in a policy paper titled 'Joe Biden’s agenda for Muslim American community', the President-elect had asked the Indian government to take "all necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir".

Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the Internet, weakens democracy,” said the policy paper.

Pakistan

On Biden's victory, India's former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said that positive trends in the India-US relationship will boil down to the US-China relationship.

"I believe he (Biden) will carry forward the positive trends in this (India-US) relationship as established over the last few years. So in that case, India should be in a good place and in a positive place. It all boils down, ultimately I think, to the US-China relationship, that's really where the action is going to be," she said.

Biden and Kamala Harris defeated incumbent President Donald Trump and his deputy Mike Pence in the bitterly-fought presidential election that saw a record number of Americans casting their votes. Harris will make history becoming the first woman - and the first woman of colour - to occupy the office.
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