By Ayaskant Das
New Delhi: Amidst a rising China that wields power irresponsibly, India and the United States have to strengthen their diplomatic ties whether the Democrats or the Republicans win the presidential elections due in November to reach the White House. This is essential for the both India and the US to keep an expansionist China at bay, both along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in South Asia or in the South China Sea.
This was the consensus of thinkers and experts on India-US ties at a webinar on “New World Order: Options for the US” organised jointly by Council for International Economic Understanding, a New Delhi-based think-tank, and Defence.Capital, an Indian strategic affairs, aerospace and defence sector magazine here on June 26. All four panelists concurred with the idea that the India and the US need to be improved on all aspects of international relations including trade, defence and security challenges.
The set of distinguished panelists at the webinar were Indian parliamentarian (Lok Sabha – House of the People) from Delhi Meenakshi Lekhi, former Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna, India-US ties American strategist David Springer and national co-convener of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (organisation supporting indigenisation in all economic sectors) Dr Ashwani Mahajan.
Meenakshi Lekhi, a senior member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, raised questions during the discussion on what response the two political parties of the US have towards China referring to Beijing as one that used bio-terrorism to unleash a global financial crisis.
“Most of China’s businesses in the US was established when the Democrats were very active. China established its manufacturing sector with funding and technical help from the US. What is the stand of the Democrats and the Republicans on China now? Everybody was busy buying cheaper goods from China but that helped provide funding to a Communist regime and democracy had to ultimately pay a price for it,” said Lekhi.
The politician said the US needs to internally assess the dangers posed by China in the light of recent geopolitical incidents. She cited the instance of data from Zoom being sold in the Dark Net to China and strategic investments made by China in Google Inc. She said further clarity is required from the US on the issue of its stand on India versus China in the post-COVID global environment.
Navtej Sarna, a 1980-batch Indian Foreign Service officer with varied experience in diplomacy in a career spanning more than three-and-a-half decades, said bipartisan questions on differing views of India between the Republicans and Democrats is a thing of yore.
“Over the past 25 years, there has been an upward graph in India-US relationship, which began during the term of US President Bill Clinton. This graph has remained upwards ever since whether it has been the Republicans or the Democrats who have ruled the US. We need to continue and push the India story in the US. The growth and political engagement of the Indian diaspora are aspects, which are going to define India-US relationships in the future,” said Sarna.
Both India and the US stand to make massive strategic gains in terms of defence deals, scientific agreements and co-operation in the field of counter-terrorism so far as Pakistan is concerned. However, Sarna said that the post-COVID world is also likely to be different for both countries as far as trade and geopolitics are concerned.
“Civil aviation and oil are two areas that will suffer in terms of trade between India and the US, owing to the setbacks suffered in the respective sectors from the Coronavirus pandemic. However, new areas, including science and technology, vaccine development, pharmaceuticals, space co-operation, health and connectivity, which were always on the back-burner, can now be moved to the forefront,” he said.
Sarna added a word of caution regarding people-to-people relationship, which is likely to suffer a setback due to US President Donald J. Trump‘s decision to temporarily withhold H1B and other critical work and education visas. He said care must be taken to ensure Indian students, who form the second largest student community in the US after those belonging to China are not disturbed due to the visa curbs.
The H1B visa curbs are likely to affect 250,000 people, who seek employment in the US annually in a range of sectors including information technology, hospitality and finance. At least a third of these visas are generally issued to Indians.
“It is a terrible mistake on the part of the US to freeze all H1B visas. Political commentators are already talking about a post-Trump world. The US is closely monitoring the China situation and both countries should work more expeditiously for big changes in the next administration,”said David Springer.
Springer said the Democrats will try and revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement along the Pacific Rim, which did not come into force after Donald Trump decided to exit the free trade zone. He added that both India and the US spend tremendous amount of resources at building confidence, and any kind of suspicion between the two countries should be taken off the table.
Dr Ashwani Mahajan said both India and the US contribute towards providing trade surplus to China and if they join hands, 90 per cent of the Communist country’s trade surplus will vanish.
“There are not many options before the US other than joining hands with India. The US pushed for the formation of the World Trade Organisation. But barely six years later, it began losing income and jobs with the shifting of most of its manufacturing base to China. The US and its various companies have faced losses due to rampant intellectual property rights violations by China,” Mahajan said.
“On the other hand, the US companies have done better in India in terms of profits and royalty transfers. China’s expansionism did not ring alarm bells until recently. The US looked at the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China with suspicion. The European countries, over which the US had lost control by then, did not listen to it on the BRI. It is the right time for the US to join hands with India and the rest of the world against China,” he said.
It was concurred during the course of the discussion that this was an opportunity for the US and India to rethink on their China policies. In the last two decades, both India and the US have come much closer to each other. In the post-COVID world, there would be more areas for co-operation that take care of each other’s interests.