Modi-Biden lay out a road map | HT Editorial
India and the US should deepen convergence, find ways to deal with differences
Great powers have too many interests to ever agree with each other on all policy fronts. This is doubly true when one of the powers is the United States (US). The goal is to ensure a Venn diagram where the area of convergence is large and growing and the other parts are marginal and shrinking. The one reason India and the US have seen a steady improvement in relations over four administrations is that the list of common interests has kept increasing. Given the chalk and cheese differences between presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, this formula will be tested in the coming months.
It is reassuring that Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s tweet about his phone conversation with Mr Biden immediately laid out three areas with the greatest potential for bilateral cooperation. The first is the Covid-19 pandemic. Much of this already exists at the commercial and scientific level but can be infused with governmental support. The second, and one with considerable long-term potential, is climate. PM Modi is committed to move India to a green energy trajectory but needs international support in terms of finance and technology. Mr Biden has to not only reverse Mr Trump’s damage to global climate efforts but also move the US to the vanguard of the battle against carbon. On the multilateral track, there is a smorgasbord of climate policies that the two can work on, including looking beyond the Paris Accord and strengthening Indian initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance. Finally, India and the US need to share notes on their visions of the Indo-Pacific — shorthand for how to handle an openly aggressive China. It is in this policy area where Mr Biden’s views are haziest. He and his advisers accept China is a strategic competitor. The devil, however, is in the tactical details and Mr Biden’s seeming preference for non-military responses to China is questionable.
The flip side is that areas of differences are almost certain to arise. Mr Biden’s trade policy will differ from Mr Trump’s only in terms of tone rather than substance. Delhi is braced for lectures on inclusivity and Kashmir from the other side. The best way to keep these problem areas on the margins of the relationship is for both governments to work hard to ensure the areas of cooperation generate tangible results. Strategic partnerships work best if they generate a return on investment in the policy space.