India is America's best friend

Modi and Trump were "friends" - what Joe Biden's presidency could mean for India

The trade relations between the countries are in a mess. But the partnership should deepen - because of China.

In late September 2020, a month before the American elections, Harley-Davidson gave up. The company with the heavy motorcycles left India: too little sales. The motorcycles are something like the American dream of freedom on two wheels, but too expensive for Indians and not agile enough for Indian roads.

A week later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wished his “friend” Donald Trump a speedy recovery on Twitter, Trump was infected with the corona virus.

The two reports explain the ambivalence of the American-Indian relationship over the past four years quite well. On the one hand, there are two politicians who apparently got on well, they organized stadium receptions in front of cheering crowds - “Howdy Modi” in Houston and “Namaste Trump” in Delhi. But Trump's America-first ideology and Modi's Hindutva nationalism put a strain on the relationship, and Trump's stricter immigration laws hit many Indians.

Because the countries were on the verge of a trade war in 2018, the "friends" resorted to Harley-Davidson diplomacy.

Trump had complained several times that the import tariffs for motorcycles in India were too high. He later said he personally asked Modi to lower tariffs. Modi actually took on the matter. Modi and Trump made agreements for individual industries, especially in the metal and armaments sectors. But a planned trade agreement did not materialize. Harley-Davidson gave up, and once again India was just a promise to the US.

Clinton visited India

American presidents have been paying more attention to India for around twenty years. Bill Clinton paid the country a presidential visit in 2000 for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, the end of a difficult period in relations after India's 1998 nuclear tests. Clinton was received like a star and cheered by the crowds. George W. Bush also visited India, and later Barack Obama. Prime Minister Modi, in power since 2014, hugged him too.

“When Clinton came, there was excitement about India. It promised to grow economically just as rapidly as China, ”says Manoj Joshi, he is a foreign policy expert at the Indian think-thank called Observer Research Foundation (ORF). The promise has not yet been fulfilled. American companies repeatedly complain that they are being disadvantaged by Indian protectionism. But while trade relations have deteriorated in recent years, the countries have moved closer together militarily.

Bush created the basis for future relations with a nuclear treaty in 2008; Joe Biden had campaigned for the agreement as head of the Senate's foreign affairs commission. The Obama administration, with Biden as vice president, lobbied for a permanent Indian seat on the Security Council. "Biden will give priority to relations with India," says Anja Manuel, a former diplomat in the State Department and advising the Biden campaign on foreign policy issues. “Military relations will continue to deepen under Biden, something that has been happening steadily since the Bush presidency. Precisely because China is becoming more and more aggressive, ”says Manuel.

In 2017, the US revived the Quad, an almost forgotten security dialogue between the US, Japan, Australia and India. The countries conducted joint maneuvers in the South Pacific. At the end of October, the foreign and defense ministers of America visited Delhi, it should be a sign: a high-level visit in the middle of the pandemic.

Border conflict with China

Like Trump, Biden is likely to take a tough course against China, but the means could change. “Biden's course will probably be less confrontational than that of the Trump administration. Biden will look for allies to stand up to China, ”says Anja Manuel. That is why the relationship with India is important in the coming years: “Both the USA and India want to find a way to deal with the rise of China. India is becoming an even stronger military partner for the USA. "

India has been in an open border conflict with China since last year. India has influence over its neighbors, in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh - these are all countries that have come into the focus of Chinese foreign policy in recent years. Manoj Joshi from Think-Thank ORF is still skeptical whether American-Indian relations will actually enjoy priority under Biden. «We have to ask ourselves: What can India offer the US? Little economic incentive. And no military strength either. "

India has probably lost hundreds of square kilometers in the border conflict with China. The country is in a recession, the navy is to be saved to free up resources for the army on the northern border - Indian media are discussing whether a third aircraft carrier is really needed. Quad cooperation in the South Pacific relies primarily on the Navy. In addition, India maintains a historically close relationship with Russia, here Biden is likely to be less compliant than Trump.

The Biden administration is also likely to be less compliant with Modi's anti-Muslim policies and human rights violations in the country. This also has to do with Biden's Vice President: Kamala Harris ’mother immigrated to the US from India; When Modi withdrew its special status from the Muslim state of Kashmir in 2019, Harris advocated American intervention. Liberal voices in India hope that the new Vice President will interfere more in India's domestic politics.