Since Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America, the world has watched in anxiousness to decipher what policies of the Trump administration will be continued under the new US Administration and which all will be discarded. Analysts across the globe are predicting major changes in defence, diplomatic and economic policies of the United States.
However, the approach adopted by the Biden Administration will be extremely critical for India and China because, since May 2020, both nations are entangled in a prolonged military standoff in Ladakh in which the US has a major role. President Trump has been a great friend of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and this personal relationship has reflected positively on enhanced military cooperation between India. This bonhomie can be measured by the sale of sensitive military hardware like new Sea Guardian drones and MH-60 Romeo anti-submarine helicopters which were previously out of India’s reach.
In the Ladakh standoff, India has demonstrated to the world that it has the military capability to tie down the Chinese military and same has boosted India’s image in the United States as a reliable military power that can deter Chinese belligerence.
It is true that the rise of China has threatened both the US and India as China aims to replace the United States as the world’s preeminent power which requires Chinese military forces to establish absolute supremacy in Asia by tackling the Indian Armed Forces. This philosophy of Chinese strategic thinkers to subdue India before fighting with the United States has resulted in multiple military standoffs whose starting point 2017 Doklam standoff which was resolved without bloodshed. However, in May 2020, PLA crossed the Rubicon when at Galwan PLA troops attacked Indian soldiers with primitive weapons which resulted in the sacrifice of 20 gallant Indian solider with their Commanding Officer but only after killing 35 to 40 PLA troops. The incident shook India which responded fiercely by staging a surgical strike for capturing Kailash Range totally astonishing a humiliated Chinese military that is yet to formally acknowledge its causalities at Galwan.
It was at this point India looked to the world for diplomatic support which had surprising results. Since India has a long history of friendly relationship with Russia, it was expected that Russia will stand with India and criticize China for its belligerent actions. However, during the entire Ladakh standoff, Russia has maintained strategic silence which has not been liked by the Indian policymakers. It is true that Russia values India’s friendship and is expected to support it against any aggregation from Pakistan. However, Russia itself sees China as a counterbalance to the American threat and therefore has chosen to side with China. This effectively means that in case of hostilities, India will have to fight China alone without any direct Russian assistance. Therefore, India needs new allies with whom its strategic interests coincide and this factor has been predominantly visible since the Ladakh standoff.
Therefore, the bonhomie with America is critical from an Indian point of view as the Chinese military is under rapid modernization besides becoming increasingly assertive in the Himalayas. As China sees India as a major roadblock to its emergence as the preeminent power in Asia, therefore, in all probability, India will face an increasingly hostile Chinese Army on the LAC. To deter Chinese belligerence, India needs more lethal and technologically advanced weapons and it is at this point the United States becomes one of the most important factors in India’s defense policy.
For the United States, the friendship with India offers unparalleled benefits as India not only has capability to face off Chinese military but also controls China’s jugular vein i.e. Chinese oil trade passing through the Indian Ocean which can be blocked by the Indian Navy. Since Obama’s days, the US has recognized the fact that the Indian Armed Forces have enough combat prowess to tie down China in a conflict with no clear winners, and with American intervention, the Indo-US forces can easily tame the Chinese military.
This partnership also has economic dimensions as by 2050 the US, China, and India will be the largest economies in the world. Presently, the Chinese rise seems inevitable which is partially financed by western technology and investments. However, since 2020, many advanced economies like the US, Japan, and South Korea have started relocating their businesses out of China. This coupled with low internal demand and aging population will have a negative impact on Chinese growth which will in turn increase instability in China as CPC will no longer be able to provide incentives to its people due to weak finances.
At this stage, China is expected to be even more unpredictable as CPC will try to instigate new fights to divert the attention of the home audience from internal problems. In this scenario, the Senkaku island of Japan LAC with India, South China Sea, and Taiwan will become major clash points. However, even with its immense size and gigantic military China cannot defeat the entire world at once. Therefore, a few of the Trump policies like strengthening QUAD and enhancing military cooperation with India are likely to continue. President Joe Biden may choose to go even a step further as indicated by his latest order of reviewing the Taliban Peace Deal of the Trump Administration which has been received positively in India.
Finally, Team Guarding India hopes that despite some errant like the S-400 missile deal which India deems necessary for its strategic autonomy, the Indo-US relations are likely to soar under Biden Administration which will be driven by geopolitical and economic constraints which say Indian and US need each other for facing the Chinese threat.