Joe Biden has promised to put an end to Donald Trump’s isolationist, disruptive approach to global relations.
But a Biden administration bid to restore American leadership will require time and
political capital just when the superpower’s global role stands in doubt at home and
Biden is keen to rebuild the European alliances that Trump has repeatedly snubbed, Mr Biden is likely to be the most Atlanticist US president in a generation. He prides himself on his Irish heritage and will move away from Trump’s overt hostility to the EU. Biden will also be a strong backer of the Nato military alliance.
The new president is opposed to Brexit, though has accepted it as a fait accompli following the UK’s departure from the EU single market in January.
Biden has also promised to harden the US line on Russia and “impose real costs” on the
country for violations of international norms. His support for a strong Nato is explicitly
aimed at countering Moscow’s aggression, and he has vowed to stand with Russian civil
society against what he calls President Vladimir Putin’s “kleptocratic authoritarian
2) MIDDLE EAST
Biden has promised to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal Trump withdrew from, if Tehran comes back into compliance with the multilateral accord designed to curb its atomic ambitions. He has also vowed to reset relations with Saudi Arabia, which he has called a “pariah” state.
But like Trump, Biden wants to end America’s wars and plans a shift in US loyalties in the Middle East. The Democrat will not move the US embassy from Jerusalem, where Trump relocated it from Tel Aviv in 2018. He has no plans to push for a two-state solution. Biden’s top advisers have also made clear his foreign policy priorities lie elsewhere.
Iran wants compensation for its treatment at the hands of the Trump administration and all sanctions lifted as the price for its return to the nuclear
One Biden adviser described the president’s foreign policy priorities as “China.
China. China. Russia”. Team Biden will inherit a US foreign policy establishment
that views Beijing with far more concern than it did during Barack Obama’s
presidency. However, it remains unclear what combination of co-operation,
competition and confrontation Mr Biden will use to engage with America’s rising
While he will probably refuse to endorse a new cold war that could put the US’s leading global role under threat, he will seek to push back on conventions
governing technology and investment. He will also maintain a robust US military presence on China’s doorstep.
Biden will seek to strengthen co-ordination with European partners on investment screening, intelligence sharing and emerging technologies in an effort “to get on the same page with our allies regarding China”, a Biden official said before the EU decided to go ahead with an investment deal with Beijing last month. He will also try to strengthen regional partnerships with allies given short shrift under the Trump administration, such as South Korea.
Some experts think China will breathe a sigh of relief with Biden at the helm. Europeans are hoping for less aggressive public rhetoric than during the Trump years, but many officials expect little let-up in private pressure by the US.
4) GLOBAL TRADE
Biden has some of the same protectionist tendencies as Trump. He proposes
making federal agencies procure only US services and goods, and has floated a
tax to penalise American companies for moving jobs and manufacturing
Like Trump, he has argued that the World Trade Organization needs to be reformed and better able to deal with non-market economies such as China. However, although Biden has signalled he will continue to be tough on China on the trade front, he is unlikely to replicate the confrontational tariff regime
fostered by Trump. But the extent to which he will remove or lower tariffs — or apply further tariffs — is unclear.
In line with his broader foreign policy, Biden wants to lower trade tensions with
Europe. But this means resolving some big disagreements, including the
decades-long row over aircraft subsidies and the debate over how to fairly tax big
The UK, which left the EU single market in January, will try to close a trade deal with the US once Mr Biden takes office, but the Biden campaign has said this will not be at the top of the new president’s priorities.
Substantial issues remain with Europe. Trade tensions with Beijing, too, are likely to persist. Experts expect trade wars to continue — but ones that will be waged in back rooms and not over Twitter.
1) CLIMATE POLICY
Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, from which the US withdrew in November. He plans to integrate climate change targets
across every aspect of US foreign policy, national security and trade. He has set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 for the US and has vowed to rely entirely on — and even export — clean energy.
He has also said he would lead a global effort to ensure every significant carbon-emitting country raises its own ambitions for domestic climate targets, with transparent, enforceable goals — with China particularly in mind.
EU countries need the US to come back into the international coalition to fight climate change. The UK, which is hosting the COP26 gathering in November, hopes to use the UN climate summit to reduce tension over Brexit between Biden and Boris Johnson, the prime minister.
China and Japan both recently laid out hefty new targets for themselves to go carbon neutral by 2060 and, in Tokyo’s case, by 2050. That puts the pressure on
Biden to improve US goals and to find a bright spot in US-China relations, even
as Biden will seek to reclaim the leadership mantle in global climate diplomacy.
2) WHAT’S IN IT FOR INDIA
Immigration and H-1B visas
In June, President Trump suspended H-1B visas through the end of the year. The permit allows specialized foreign workers with technical skills to enter the U.S. and work for American firms, and the largest share of recipients work in the tech sector. Typically, 85,000 H-1B visas are issued each year, and almost 75% of all H-1B visa holders in the U.S. are from India.
“Discussions over work visa programs like the H-1B have been a significant component of U.S.-India ties at-large,” says Kashish Parpiani of Mumbai’s Observer Research Foundation, adding that the U.S. has a need for skilled workers that India is happy to provide.
Then, in October, the Trump Administration announced that it would scrap the lottery system in place to receive an H-1B visa and replace it with a process that prioritizes the highest-paying jobs. “These
tightening regulations around the filing and handling of the H-1B visas will be very concerning to Indian IT companies,” says Sahay.
Biden has promised to lift Trump’s freeze. He has also announced that he will go further, reforming the temporary visa system as well as eliminating country quotas on green cards—a policy that has resulted in long waiting periods, sometimes longer than entire lifetimes, for Indians trying to become permanent U.S. residents.
The Role of China in U.S.-India Relations
Under Trump, the U.S. and India signed three agreements for closer military cooperation, seen by many
analysts as a common recognition of an increasing threat from India’s northern neighbor China.
Tensions between India and China escalated significantly in 2020. Over the summer, India banned 59 Chinese apps including TikTok and WeChat. Then, its army clashed with Chinese troops high in the Himalayas, on the disputed border between the two countries. Some 20 Indian troops and 35 Chinese troops were reported killed, though both sides gave conflicting accounts.
The escalation came at the same time as consensus in the U.S. was hardening against China—a state of affairs that appears unlikely to change drastically under a new President. The Biden and Trump campaigns shared a hostile view of China, though Trump’s first term was characterized by inflammatory rhetoric that alienated allies, while Biden promises to take a consensus-based approach to coaxing better practices out of Beijing.
Biden has committed to strengthening the military cooperation between the U.S. and India. But if he eventually decides to ease the pressure on China, it could leave India high and dry. “If American policy ends up going slightly easier on China than Trump did, and going after Russia, then that complicates India’s position,” says James Crabtree, an associate fellow at the Asia-Pacific program of Chatham House, a foreign-affairs research institute. “[India] wouldn’t be too keen on that, given they have good relations with Russia.
Human rights in Kashmir
When the Indian government sent troops into the contested region of Kashmir in August 2019, announcing it would revoke the state’s constitutionally mandated autonomy, the response from the Trump White House was relatively muted.
India has long maintained that the situation in Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim as
their own, is a domestic issue, not for mediation by outside powers.
But in public statements and policy documents, both Biden and Harris have suggested that their Administration would do more than Trump to hold India to account over its actions in Kashmir. “In Kashmir, the Indian government should take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people of Kashmir,” says Biden’s Agenda for Muslim Americans, published on the campaign’s website. “Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the Internet, weaken democracy.”
Harris has been even more outspoken. “We have to remind Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world,” she said in October 2019, when she was a candidate in the Democratic primaries. “There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.”
But experts say that, when in office, Biden is likely to temper public criticism of India.
“The Biden team understands that lecturing India publicly or threatening it publicly will not go down well, and will not achieve any change that they want to see,” says Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution.
“I suspect you might have a Biden Administration that is more likely to bring these issues up privately [than the Trump Administration].
But I think publicly, you’ll see a continuation of what we saw both Obama and Trump do, which
is alluding to these issues through talking about the importance for the world of India as a
diverse, tolerant democracy.”
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