China hopes that the next US administration under President-elect Joe Biden will adopt a ‘sensible approach’ and restore normalcy to the bilateral relations. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi recent said in an interview that “China-US relations have come to a new crossroads, and a new window of hope is opening.”
Surely, as the new president, it is Biden’s prerogative to decide on how much to retain of what outgoing President Donald Trump has built. Nevertheless, Trump’s strategic investment for the success of America’s Indo-Pacific strategy will not go to waste as Joe Biden is most likely to continue with his predecessor’s policy stance on China.
Therefore Beijing’s hopes of a thaw in ties with the Biden-led White House may be too much to sustain under the weight of post-pandemic geopolitical realities.
The global security landscape demands new partnerships and issue-based alliances as a new ‘great game’ is underway in the Indo-Pacific region where the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad among India, the US, Japan and Australia is emerging.
India’s Strengthening Commitment To Quad
Trump’s political rhetoric on the Indo-Pacific has been inseparable from his broader India policy, as Washington has made significant investment in its relationship with New Delhi during the last four years. Recently, the two countries signed an agreement to share real-time geographical data through satellite images. Obviously, the primary motivation behind the India-US ties is to form a united front in managing the upheaval caused by the rise of China.
Moreover, India’s notable attachment to the notion of ‘strategic autonomy’ — the ability to pursue its national interests and adopt its policies without depending on other states — has not prevented New Delhi from cementing its strategic partnership with Washington. Overcoming its traditional skepticism of formal alliances, India has begun to strengthen its commitment to the Quad.
Fearing containment by leading maritime democracies, China’s criticism of the Quad as an Asian version of NATO is quite understandable.
Trump’s exceptional personal chemistry with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has contributed to India and the US coming closer in the Indo-Pacific. Trump’s recent bestowal of the Legion of Merit award to Modi for his leadership in elevating India-US strategic partnership and the emergence of India as a global power is testimony to the significance the Trump administration has attached to the Quad; Trump has presented the Legion of Merit to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well.
Why Biden May Not Be Able To Reverse Trump’s Actions Against China
Trump’s tumultuous departure from the White House will not affect the mutual bonhomie as the Biden administration is also expected to deepen the existing bonds of friendship between New Delhi and Washington.
Biden cannot forget that Asian countries including India were not very comfortable with what they saw as the Obama administration’s penchant for accommodation with Beijing despite its aggressive behaviour.
Although Obama’s hands were tied because of other significant challenges such as North Korea, Libya, and the rise of ISIS, however American foreign policy simply could not define the nature of its relationship with China. For instance, China’s militarisation of the South China Sea went almost unchallenged during Obama’s tenure when Biden was the vice-president. On the other hand, with his Indo-Pacific strategy, Trump brought more clarity on how to deal with China.
During his last days, the Trump administration has undertaken many actions relating to Tibet, Taiwan, and the South China Sea which will be extremely difficult for Joe Biden to reverse.
That is why even if Biden changes the nomenclature of the Indo-Pacific strategy, its essence will not change much.
US Still Needs India’s Help In Countering China — No Reason To Worry About Biden Regime
Surely, Biden needs Pakistan’s help in drawing down American troops in Afghanistan, and this compulsion may force his administration to be less critical of Pakistan’s duplicitous role in combating terror. But Biden’s potential outreach to Islamabad for the Afghan-specific component of the US foreign policy does not in any manner negate India’s rising importance for the larger US goals in Asia.
Since the US needs India’s help to counter China, the fears of a drastic shift in Washington’s approach to South Asian geopolitics seem overblown.
The US has been most explicit about the Quad containing China and particularly its flagship geopolitical scheme, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is increasingly being linked with Beijing’s national security interests.
Trump not only escalated a tariff war with China, but also advocated economic decoupling of the world’s two major economies, radically changing the trajectory of America’s China policy. Washington and Beijing traded blame over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, while clashing over human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
Why Biden Is No Longer ‘Optimistic’ About China & Can’t Ignore ‘China Standards 2035’
India may not have declared openly that its vision of the Quad is premised upon countering China’s aggression, but the intent is too visible to be hidden. Even a usually reticent Australia is now recalibrating its China policy, bringing more clarity on how to manage China’s constant interference in its domestic politics.
The concept of the Indo-Pacific has become entrenched in the national security architecture of the US to the extent that it is now a fundamental part of America’s foreign policy.
Realising this inevitability, Biden no longer mentions China as optimistically and enthusiastically as he once might have. Biden will need to prioritise the counterbalancing of China so that it does not dominate the Indo-Pacific region.
In particular, the Biden administration can ill afford to ignore ‘China Standards 2035’, which is Beijing’s plan to rewrite global standards for the next generation of emerging technologies such as 5G internet, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence.
This move could have huge implications for global tech industries. After all, Trump’s willingness to stand up to China on technological and trade fronts was welcomed by many countries in the Indo-Pacific.
Why India Must Get Off The Fence And Make Its Stance On Quad Crystal Clear
One needs to remember that the stability of the Indo-Pacific region is vital to the national security of all Quad members and many other countries who believe in maintaining the existing international norms. France, Germany and the UK are also seeking to enhance connectivity between Europe and the Indo-Pacific. But due to the persistent threat of instability, triggered by China’s growing challenge to American power, and Beijing’s overtly hostile attitude towards New Delhi, stabilising the Indo-Pacific region remains a daunting task.
Xi Jinping’s notion of the Chinese nation’s exceptionalism has led him to underline the need for developing a fighting spirit to push back against the so-called insults to national honour.
Establishing China’s alternative underpins the raison d’être of the Quad which must focus on cyber and maritime security along with emphasis on infrastructure and regional connectivity.
Though there are many fault lines in the Indo-Pacific which are too difficult to navigate, the concept of the Indo-Pacific has nonetheless gained widespread acceptance among those who feel threatened by China’s aggressive pursuit of its aspirations to become a global power.
Despite differing interpretations about the Indo-Pacific region, there is a growing recognition of joint action.
Therefore, inheriting a strong military relationship with India, Biden would like the Modi government to jump off the fence, and make its choices clear on the Quad. And there are already indications of India shedding its traditional reticence in this regard.
Why India’s Participation In Quad Is Crucial
India is locked in a bitter confrontation with China in the Himalayas. China’s transgression at the Galwan Valley in June 2020 and subsequent refusal to disengage has jolted India’s political elite out of their comfort zone, and may have also removed some of their anxieties over losing the country’s ‘strategic autonomy’.
As we all know that anxiety is imprecise, more acute and less manageable than fear since the latter is always finite, in the sense of being explicitly referable to something tangible. In this sense, India’s fear of Chinese aggression is much clear than its anxiety of losing strategic autonomy.
India’s participation in the Quad holds the key to the success of the emerging security and economic architecture in the rules-based Indo-Pacific region.
The urgency for a new coalition was clearly felt following China’s adventurous push at Doklam, and it has now become an inevitability post-Galwan.
China’s attempts to shift the balance of power in the Indian Ocean require a multi-pronged approach from the Quad members. New Delhi knows that it can no longer remain a passive bystander in the emerging geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific if it is to provide a strong counterweight to China — economically, militarily and strategically.
(Vinay Kaura, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of International Affairs and Security Studies at the Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice (Department of Home, Government of Rajasthan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)