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Restart with obstacles? The new US administration from the perspective of India and China

The transfer of power in the White House will not only change the United States. The inauguration of President Joe Biden's administration and the consequences for US foreign policy are being watched around the world. While there are hopes for a revival of transatlantic relations in Brussels and Berlin, for example, there is more skepticism in London and Moscow. The Asian giants India and China, the two most populous countries in the world, are also currently looking excitedly to Washington. How will the Biden administration position itself in relation to New Delhi and Beijing? What are the expectations in India and China? Where can we actually expect political changes, and in which areas will much more or less remain unchanged? This article would like to approach these questions.


The election victory of Joe Biden was received largely positively in India. The Indian roots of the future Vice President Kamala Harris fill the South Asian country with pride and are at the same time a vital expression of the growing Indian diaspora in the United States. Politically, people in New Delhi largely expect continuity and sustained good bilateral relations between “the oldest and the largest democracy in the world”. Although Donald Trump was and is quite popular, not least because of his tough stance towards China and Pakistan, one sees in Joe Biden a "true friend of India" who has been strongly concerned with an even better relationship between the two countries in the past has tried. Accordingly, New Delhi expects the continuation of security and military cooperation as well as support for Washington in border disputes and in the fight against terrorism. Concrete improvements are expected from the Biden government, especially in the areas of trade relations, immigration regulations and cooperation on climate protection. The Indian government is concerned that the new US administration may take a much more critical stance with regard to the controversial reform of Indian naturalization law, human rights issues and the internal Indian status of the Kashmir region.

Even more than the duel between incumbent Trump and challenger Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was the focus of public interest. Harris' mother was the biomedical scientist Shyamala Gopalan, originally from South India. Although Kamala Harris is usually attributed to the Afro-American population in the USA because of her father, in India it is absolutely clear that she is “Desi”, that is, belongs to the global South Asian diaspora. The United States is home to around four million people of Indian descent or ancestry. The success of Kamala Harris is widely seen as the logical culmination of an increasing political activation of this well-integrated and extremely wealthy ethnic minority.

The question of whether India can possibly benefit from a Vice-President Kamala Harris from South Asia in terms of foreign policy cannot yet be answered unequivocally. Some observers fear that Harris, precisely because of her origins, might be particularly critical of India in order to prove her objectivity. An almost automatic support for the positions of New Delhi cannot and will not exist, but it is also true that Harris brings with him a different understanding of the problems and sensitivities of India than her predecessors in office. The times in which the political concerns of New Delhi were neglected or underestimated within the US government or even India and Pakistan were mistaken for a single country out of ignorance are finally over.

In general, it can be stated that bilateral relations between the USA and India have steadily improved over the past two decades. The conflicts of the past such as the Indo-Soviet alliance in the Cold War or the harsh sanctions following India's nuclear weapons tests in 1998 have long since been overcome. An important milestone in this regard was the nuclear agreement between India and the USA, ratified in 2008, which liberated New Delhi from its geostrategic isolation and more or less officially accepted it into the club of nuclear powers. One of India's most vehement advocates at the time was Joe Biden as chairman of the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee in the US Senate - that has not been forgotten in New Delhi.

Even under President Trump, the positive development has basically continued. Defense policy cooperation was significantly expanded through the conclusion of two additional security agreements (COMCASA 2018 and BECA 2020), which cemented India's status as a close military partner of the USA. For New Delhi this is extremely important, especially with a view to China and the border conflict in the Himalayas, which escalated bloody in 2020. Washington has sided with India on this issue much more clearly than in earlier days. Trump's confrontational stance towards China has earned him the respect of large sections of the Indian population. The close ties between the two nations and their political leaders were symbolically manifested in two gigantic summit meetings between Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston 2019 ("Howdy Modi") and in Gujarat 2020 ("Namaste Trump").

Despite the generally good relationship, the Indian-American relationship under Trump has not been problem-free. In particular, it is the two conflict areas of trade and immigration in which the Indian government is hoping for concrete improvements as a result of the change in power in the USA. In 2018 India's membership in the GSP tariff preference system was not extended by the Trump administration - this means that tariffs are again being imposed on many Indian products and access to the important American market is made considerably more difficult. This is an example of Trump's protectionist “America first” agenda. In mid-2020, the issuance of the H-1B visa was also suspended - ostensibly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the past, these special work visas for highly qualified professions, especially in the IT and computer industries, benefited predominantly Indian immigrants. Her suspension is widely seen as an attempt to make "non-white" immigration to the United States more difficult.

It is by no means certain that India can hope for a quick return to GSP status under President Biden. In terms of trade policy, Biden has also positioned itself more protectionist under the motto “Buy American”. In contrast, there could be significant changes in immigration policy. In his election campaign program, Biden promised an extension of the visa for highly qualified immigrants and also announced that the country-specific cap on the number of job-related green cards would be lifted. Numerous Indian families could benefit from the last measure in particular. There is also likely to be a U-turn in the area of ​​climate protection. Biden has already announced several times that he will immediately return the United States to the Paris Agreement. India hopes to benefit from US support in the form of aid payments and “green” technology transfers when converting its own economy to more climate-neutral models.

Generally speaking, the new US administration in New Delhi is expecting an end to the erratic and erratic foreign policy style typical of Trump and a return to a reliable American foreign policy guided by diplomatic and regional expertise. Both the close security cooperation between the US and India and Washington’s political support against an increasingly aggressive China will certainly continue under the Biden administration. India plays a decisive role in Biden's envisaged “coalition of democracies” to better enforce a rule-based international order. However, Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government may have to adjust to much more critical questions regarding the quality of democracy and the protection of minority rights in India. Kamala Harris has already addressed the controversial developments on the Kashmir issue on several occasions, which New Delhi has always thin-skinned as inadmissible interference in internal affairs. There is certainly potential for conflict here, although it is considered unlikely that the Biden government can and will seriously deal with new approaches to solving the highly complex Kashmir conflict in view of the immense domestic political challenges in the USA.


During the term coined in 2006 by historians Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick Chimerica was based on a symbiosis of the economies of the USA and China that shaped the world economy, only a dozen years later the word of dominated Decoupling political parlance.

The election of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States was largely unemotional in China and was only published as "side news". Just as there is an almost singular agreement between the Democrats and the Republicans in the USA to “put China in its place” or to contain it, in China the government and the ruled agree almost without exception that a Biden administration should be more moderate in tone will be than its predecessor, but in the matter also “nothing, however dirty,” will be omitted in order to hinder China's return to world power.

China's President Xi Jingping took - formally correct - until November 25, 2020 to congratulate Joe Biden on his election victory. Xi emphasized that he hoped that, with mutual respect, both sides would concentrate on possible cooperation, control differences and thus promote world peace and development. On November 9, 2020, the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, said: “We always believe that China and the United States will strengthen their communication and readiness for dialogue, deal with their differences of opinion on the basis of mutual respect, and cooperate with the extend mutual benefits and promote solid and stable development of Sino-US relations. "

The Chinese government will first of all wait until an effective US government approaches them with proposals, and during this time they will advance their own agendas. It heads the only major economy that will see GDP growth of an estimated 1.9 percent in 2020, with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to bring the world's largest free trade agreement with 14 countries from Asia and Oceania (including Japan, Australia and New Zealand) under one roof in mid-November 2020, and also sees itself as strong enough, the “own oligarchs” from the high-tech sector with Alibaba CEO Jack Ma as the most important representative to clarify the primacy of politics.


China emerged from the "world crisis" of the Covid-19 pandemic, culturally and economically stronger as well as relatively stronger due to the way in which the crisis was managed in the USA and Europe. The more than 90 percent Han population stands behind their leadership when it comes to what they see as China's role as a world power on par with the United States. It is doubtful whether the Biden government can manage to bind India even more closely as a permanent alliance partner. Besides the USA, India is the only major economy that is relatively poorly integrated into the world economy and that could probably afford to “get out” of the international division of labor to a large extent without major disruptions. New Delhi is unlikely to turn itself into an extended arm of geopolitical US interests for economic reasons - in addition, every Indian government insists on strategic independence for historical and cultural reasons, even if this idea is in fact not always feasible.

Of essential medium-term importance for the future international balance of power will be the extent to which India's “old friend” Russia remains in its strategic condemnation to a partnership among unequal with China or whether alternatives that have not yet been seen will open up. Hope for future geopolitics is raised by the realization that all the major players in world politics know that overcoming the challenges of climate change requires coordinated efforts and the cooperation of all those involved.

Dr. Pierre Gottschlich is a deputy chair for political theory and the history of ideas at the University of Rostock. In addition to South Asia and the USA, his research focuses on international crisis and conflict research, the topics of migration and diaspora, and questions of collective identity and religiosity.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Dirk Linowski has held the chair for asset management since 2004 and has been a director of the Institute for International Business Studies at Steinbeis University Berlin since 2006. Since 2004 he has been an officially appointed Distinguished Guest Professor of Applied Mathematics at Shanghai Normal University. He is a liaison professor and a member of the selection committee of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

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