South Asia: Presenting challenges for Joe Biden
THE fast-changing global milieu and particularly the region South Asia will provide before the foreign policy of the United States of America more challenges in comparison to any other part of the globe as for its main policy theme — counter-terrorism and containment of China.
It is the experimental hub or laboratory where affected countries as well as nations outside the region would judge its success or failure, because on both these counts American policy has shown a poor image or not up to the mark, and India, its most dependable ally in the region, remained virtually defenceless.
In this context not to talk of the foreign policy of Donald Trump which proved a disaster for the region and in its relations with China where each and every hostile action of America was met with a hostile Chinese reaction and it appears that in trade sanctions too Beijing had searched so many alternatives to make up the loss incurred by the US sanctions.
In case of Afghanistan, the US has said final goodbye being fade up but leaving the country without erecting any viable democratic setup and fully smashing the global terror force ‘Taliban’ and giving Pakistan a free hand on terrorism against India and all others who are not on good terms with Islamabad and Beijing will invite more dangers for the region.
The new alliance-in-the-making that include-China, Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan more against the US and its allies in South Asia will definitely be a big challenge for the administration of Joe Biden in the days to come and US policy as a whole will remain on the radar of world politics, where countries of the region would be bound to live in constant fear and dilemma as well.
Policy inheritance of Joe Biden: In contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump, the current President of America Joe Biden has promised to revive the old US policy of commitment and multilateralism, protection and promotion of human rights all over the world and reiterated American policy to work genuinely for climate change.
In fact, the four years of Trump Administration has itself ruined the world values and international rules that the country had itself created after the end of World War-II and others followed those rules and values because of the moral power of the US.
The regime ended the American favoured methods of dialogue, reasoning, persuasion and negotiation and, in place, adopted bluster and bullying which also harmed America in case of Chinese sanctions.
In South, Southeast Asia and several European countries the US image, as a reliable strategic partner, has also gone low due to over emphasis on bilateralism and intentional ignorance of multilateralism.
The several research institutes of Southeast Asia conducted surveys which indicated little or no confidence in the United States.
However, on several counts the US President is likely to continue Trump’s policy, for example, withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, maintaining workable relations with Pakistan and rapidly growing US- India partnership which enjoyed forward movement during the Trump years.
Needs of the policy: Alike Trump, the main South Asia policy of Joe Biden will revolve around its rivalry with the People’ Republic of China and increasingly India-China disputes with Beijing’s deepening footprints across the region, proliferated by the Chinese Road and Belt Initiative (BRI).
The Belt and Road Initiative projects of China has become very popular not only in Asia but in other continents too and about 140 countries of the world have recognised this development scheme of China, perhaps the biggest challenge for the US not only in this region but across the world.
To meet the challenges of BRI, the US-led alliance of maritime democratic countries, a politic-strategic front Quad, stands nowhere.
At the juncture, US needs to launch a scheme of infrastructural development for the developing and less developed nations of the world and also provide sufficient funds for the purpose to compete with China at the regional and global levels and get solid support therefrom.
A lot of changes have occurred since the Biden left the vice-presidency four years ago and China has taken an even stronger authoritarian turn and in the changed situation, the nations of Asia and South Asia, in particular, are looking for surer policy trend in this part of the globe especially on trade and investment.
Hope and expectations: At present, the general observation of US policy is largely about the change of style and mode of dealing on the part of America which is going to be softer and kinder as well as more consistent and predictable, however, it does not indicate any basic change in its contemporary South Asian policy and it will receive less strategic focus alike during the earlier term.
On the issue of counterterrorism, it is hoped to keep a vigil on Taliban and its allied groups and he may increase the pressure on Pakistan to stop the India-focused terror networks on its soil.
In the context, the region South Asia may be affected by the US policies towards its key rivals Iran, China and Russia, Biden needs to pay more attention on Russia as previous regime was not so serious about the activities of Kremlin in Afghanistan, Pakistan and China.
No doubt, a relaxed US relation with Iran and Russia will prove beneficial for New Delhi due to its commercial connections with both but any relaxation given to China will cost India dearly for its decade-old rivalry with Beijing.
Washington also needs to keep a close eye on Chinese activities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where new strategic schemes are in the formative.
Although the American Administration has shown interest in strengthening Quad and also meeting with high-level meeting with Chinese officials, but its policy need to be more result-oriented than earlier in view of growing complexed challenges in and around the region, South Asia.
— The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, B N Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar, India.