Blinken in, blinkers on (augmented)

For India, Anthony Blinken as Joe Biden's Driver of Foreign Policy Is Good  News
[Jaishankar with Anthony Blinken]

Of course, it matters to India who becomes the US Secretary of State. With Anthony Blinken named by President-elect Joe Biden as his Administration’s chief diplomat, American foreign policy will regain its familiar moorings. Relieved traditional allies in Europe and Asia who had been asked to do the unthinkable — pay for the hitherto free ride on security the departing president Donald Trump had accused them of, will clamber back on to the US bandwagon, hoping a friendlier White House will not insist on reimbursement of the costs of stationing American troops on their soil. Except, it won’t at all be easy for the Biden regime to reverse any of Trump’s disruptive policies. Simply because NATO allies and Japan and South Korea, who began contributing more, per Trump’s demands, to the costs of collective security helped reduce US deficits somewhat and why is that not welcome news for the incoming government? This is now the new beneficial normal that Washington will do nothing to disturb.

Likewise, the transactional contours of Trump’s India policy will be hewed to by the incoming Biden dispensation and the frame of “strategic partnership” will stay fleshed out in the Trumpian manner. This country enjoyed absolutely no favours with Trump at the helm. The situation will not change substantially with Biden-Blinken at the wheel. Except on the policy margins. With Kamala Harris as Vice President, there will, for instance, be some easing of the visa rules to facilitate “family reunions” and to permit spouses of temporary H1B visa holders to seek employment — rules that Trump had tightened. But, with the ranks of the unemployed rocketing in these pandemic times as also the matching social welfare costs, removing visa restrictions on Indian techies will not be a Biden priority. Especially because he has promised economic policies to dissuade outsourcing of corporate back-office operations, software development, etc. and to incentivize US corporations into “in- sourcing”, bringing production units back to America. It is a policy followed from the Obama era. The result will be a continuation of Trump’s visa policies in all but name and active encouragement to US companies to shift their manufacturing hubs from China, not to India, but back to America.

This will be easy for Biden to do. Because, unlike the ‘little dragons’ of Southeast Asia, principally Vietnam, who very early configured extremely welcoming industrial milieus complete with skilled work forces in place, and attracted the first wave of Western manufacturing industries getting out of China, the Modi government in the last six years just talked, and talked some more, about India’s great demographic dividend, held investment melas, got Amitabh Kant of the Niti Ayog to paint bright jargon-laced pictures of an “economically vibrant India”, but did next to nothing in terms of actually improving the country’s “ease of doing business” standing, skilling the youth for advanced manufacturing jobs, or tackling the uncontrolled level of corruption faced by the ordinary citizen, what to speak of companies and corporations who keep tax officers and regulators off their backs by bribing them heftily. Transparency International has just published its annual ‘Global Corruption Barometer 2020’ and, despite all the digitizing, deregulating and improving the performance of government staff — the beat policeman, patwari/tehsildar on up, India is revealed as the most corrupt country in Asia, with a corruption rate of 39% (compared to 2% for the Maldives, which is in the same category as Japan!). Has any Indian media reported these findings? For the report see https://images.transparencycdn.org/images/GCB_Asia_2020_Report.pdf

Predictably in this context, foreign investors came, saw, shook hands with the Prime Minister, and got the hell out, preferring to invest in the more orderly and speedily-modernizing Vietnam and even in Bangladesh — fast rising as a middle income country and magnet for global industry in the subcontinent. Noting the trends, a leading article in the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, gleefully called India “the sick man of South Asia”.

So, which American companies now in Asia, you think, will be targeted to close shop? Not the ones surely that already have their factories humming in Vietnam or Bangladesh, say, and making profits and prospering. Rather, it will be the companies which, espying the potentially vast Indian market are inclined, despite the horrible economic indices and bureaucratic obstacles, to set up presence in India. Because they have no stakes in India, as they do in Southeast Asian states, they can be more easily persuaded by tax concessions and other devices that the Biden Admin will soon roll out, to return home. So Delhi cannot reasonably expect to gain much on the economic or trade front, other than the US pushing India to buy more high-value military hardware — the hardy policy perennial when it comes to bilateral commerce!

The one positive that Trump’s Asia policy carried was its hostility to China. The Biden-Blinken duo are set to lessen the trade and military pressure on Beijing. Because, like Obama, Biden believes in a concordat with the Chinese. Recall that it was, in Modi’s words “my friend Barack”, who first talked of G-2, a consortium of the US and China running the world, an idea Xi Jinping quickly cottoned on to. This was bad news for India then; it will be an even worse development should it ever come to pass. In the main because the belligerent posture of the US Navy — the talk of a new fleet just for operations in the Indo-Pacific, designated the US First Fleet, notwithstanding, will be watered down with Washington hereafter striving to avoid military confrontation with China. For many in the Indian government, who seem not to understand this fact of life, let me put it bluntly: India will alone have to deal with China; there will be no US cavalry riding to the rescue of us Indians.

As to statements by Blinken, in his previous avatars as adviser to Vice President Biden, promising India military high-technologies, well, it turns out the Indian foreign policy establishment distinguished by its high gullibility quotient, are all in and happily parroting this line with a couple of former Indian ambassadors to the US in the van! The fact is Americans long ago realized that all they need to do is dangle the “transfer of military high-technology” carrot to get the Indian donkey to go where ever Washington wants it to. This has been happening from Prime Minister Vajpayee’s days. India has not received a single US-sourced high-technology to-date, all the talk of collaborations on advanced technology development vide the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, etc. have proved to be so much hogwash. The real US intention to string India along is evidenced in Trump abruptly pulling the US out of the underway joint project to produce a high-performance jet engine for combat aircraft.

Even as India got nothing, consider all that the good vibes and warm embraces fetched the US over the last two decades: the 2005 civilian nuclear deal (negotiated by minister S Jaishankar as MEA Joint Secretary) capped Indian nuclear weapons technology at the low-yield fission level; and the “foundational accords” — GSOMIA, LEMOA, COMCASA, and BECA, pulled India fully into the American orbit. These agreements have, at a stroke, robbed India of its “strategic autonomy” and signaled to Asia and the world India’s newly minted status as a US hanger-on. Wow! Some exchange this!

Reminds me of the bargain the European settlers obtained — buying Manhattan Island from those other Indians for a few shiny beads!

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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26 Responses to Blinken in, blinkers on (augmented)

  1. Sunil Kumar says:

    Bharat,

    Strategic autonomy demands strategic autonomy in weapons’ development, economy, science & technology, and culture. For all the talk of us being rising/next super-power, our government is incompetent, corrupt, and inefficient, our education institutes turn-out mediocres, the good ones if any are brain-drained or are brains-in-the-drains, 20% of the population–the minorities–have their backs to the wall, doing business in India is a pain, poor infra-structure rampant, and China on the border. Mr. Modi has not only undermined institutions but his own BJP as well. He is the PM, the external-affairs minister, the defence minister, the home minister, the finance minister, and the information minister. And, of course, he is the only election campaigner. Majority of people are drunk on Hindu nationalism. Constitution has become an anachronism.

    You, in my estimation, make a lot of sense and would be ideal defence minister, but you have been turned out to pasture. Defence forces are hollow. Most of the officers are dejected because they failed the promotion board. They are there because they haven’t found good enough job in the private sector. When they see almost all the IPS officers go to the rank additional DG (a three star General equivalent), they get even more frustrated.

    All in all, it is quite sad!

    – Sunil

  2. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    India’s foreign policies are utter crap. The country has a “cry baby syndrome”, wherein they just rant about Pakistan and China on global forums. Nobody likes a whiner. Sort out your issues yourself.

    India had a good opportunity in Afghanistan. They could have persuaded the Americans to withdraw from Afghanistan. Indian army could have been deployed in Afghanistan to counter Taliban and in return India should have bargained hard with the Americans to stop their financial package to Pakistan. The Americans would have gladly out sourced their Afghanistan operations to India. It would have provided India with tremendous strategic leverage.

    China has already proved to the world that Modi is nothing but just a talker. He is too scared to even name China forget confronting the Chinese on their Ladakh intrusions. Like a frustrated man, Modi is imposing bans on Chinese apps, which is a completely useless step and will not have any impact on China. Chinese exports to India constitute a mere 3% of their total exports.

    Furthermore, loads of Chinese goods still can find their way into India through Bangladesh, Nepal and Northeast borders.

    As an Indian, settled in China, I have been told by numerous Chinese that Indian traders get their products manufactured in China with the “Made in India” label. I guess all these patriots must be contributing a hefty amount to the PM care fund, in order to receive their Patriotic certificates from BJP.

    The Indians who whine about the country’s trade deficit with China. I wonder what do they have to say about USA’s huge trade deficit with India, which is primarily due to Indian IT companies having a large share of the US IT business in the form of Call Centres, BPO’s, Software Development centres etc in India. When the Yankees talk about strict measures regarding H1-B visas etc then Indians take offense. One cannot have the cake and eat it too.

    Confront China on its border intrusion through diplomacy or war. There is no point in targeting businesses.

    A lot has been written about RCEP. When 15 countries have come together and signed the pact, why India is behaving stubbornly? Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia etc (among signatories of RCEP) also have their own domestic industries. Why India is being unnecessarily paranoid about its so called local business units?

    Competition is a fact and reality of life. Shape up or slip out. Let Indian consumers have the choice to make their own purchasing decisions. There is no need for the Indian establishment to “hand hold” any business entity.

    A man like Bharat Karnad ought to be the Foreign Minister or the National Security Advisor of India. It’s a pity that such a brilliant mind isn’t being utilized by the Indian Government.

  3. Amit says:

    In Yoga there is the concept of Icchha Shakti, Gyan Shakti, and Kriya Shakti. We Indians have very strong icchha shakti, but fall short on gyan shakti and definitely fall short substantially on kriya shakti. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for this. The US will always take care of its interests and will align with allies to the extent of promoting its interests. Whether India gets what it wants is dependent on Indians themselves. Being a democracy, one can’t always blame the government for lack of action. Indians need to hold people in power more accountable. Can’t always complain about Modi or Manmohan Singh etc. But the sad fact is that most Indians are busy with other priorities to hold governments more accountable. If you see how people accommodate inefficiency, poor ethics etc. all over the country, we won’t get anything much different.

    Also, I think where we stand with our current comprehensive power, we need the Quad alliance. There is no alternative to it. So we need LEMOA, BECA, COMCASA etc. How India negotiates it’s wishes will depend on how India does on the economy, defence reforms, and its ability to solve its problems quickly.

    But, I hear your angst – seems like a familiar emotion with us all!

    • Or, put another way, as I have done in my books — countries like Vietnam, Israel, et al are karm yogi- countries; India specializes in yack-yoga!

      • Amit says:

        There you go! We come up with the theory, others come up with the practice. Owners envy, neighbors pride! Exactly the opposite of how it should work…

  4. Joydeep Sircar, oropolitics@gmail.com

    Thu, 26 Nov at 11:21 am

    Ouch!

  5. V.Ganesh says:

    LCA Tejas’s GE engine isn’t US-sourced high-technology enough for you, Mr. Karnad.

    • No because it is not indigenous, and what the DTTI promised was collaboration to design and produce a new one in India.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        There can never be something completely indigenous. Indigenous is desirable, but, not achievable. Even, the LCA Tejas isn’t completely indigenous nor is the F-35.

      • What’s important, Mr Ganesh, is that the design of any hardware be wholly indigenous as the Tejas LCA (and follow-on AMCA) or, for that matter,, Arjun MBT are; the rest can meet “best source” standards.

  6. V.Ganesh says:

    Mr. Karnad, looks like LCA Tejas’s GE engine isn’t US-sourced, high-technology enough for you.

  7. V.Ganesh says:

    Mr. Karnad, let Mr. Biden first becomes POTUS [it’s amazing how a candidate for the post of POTUS has been declared “winner” and what not and everyone seems to have latched on it. Looks like there’s no need for parliament, government, election authorities etcetra because media decides and it’s the “truth”]. God Forbid, if he becomes POTUS, Mr. Blinken’s appointment needs to be confirmed by the US Senate for him to become SoS.

  8. andy says:

    @Bharat for RM, would’ve sent the Chinese packing from Ladakh by now.

  9. Kunal Singh says:

    PSUs can intake better candidates by stopping recruitment through GATE exam

  10. Veeru Singh says:

    Sir,
    The reason why Vietnam has been able to attract all the factories moving out of China is because it is not a democracy. If India has to progress, then this democracy has to change. For the better, become more effective.

  11. V.Ganesh says:

    Mr. Karnad, for a nation like India which wants to become a superpower [but isn’t even a regional power, going by the way India’s neighbours play it against other powers like China to name one], design of any hardware being wholly indigenous is desirable and a must. But, which nation will give the remaining “best source” standards? I believe even a long-term supplier like Russia refused to share the source codes for the FGFA. And, if all this wasn’t enough, like in the past when India was sanctioned, India will have to make everything from scratch tapping into its domestic base [government and private]. It’s doubtful if any nation will even give the “best source” standards, including Russia.

    • All the more reason India has no alternative to slogging it to achieve the necessary standards.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        Mr. Karnad, can the government of India attract foreign scientists and other people from the fields in which it lacks talent by giving them the salary and operational freedom they want [if India will have to make everything on its own]? Like, expatriate CEOs heading West Asian airlines. Those CEOs probably know these airlines are good paymasters.

    • Natarajan says:

      Under Ajit doval’s direction, FGFA programme was scuttled.

  12. Whats in it anyway says:

    I think US sanctions are good for indigenous manufacturing super computer param http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2906865.stm
    and Cryogenic Engines are good examples
    https://m.economictimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/how-isro-developed-the-indigenous-cryogenic-engine/articleshow/28575364.cms.
    And as for China why are they wasting their resources against the Indian Army, they might just cripple India by seducing all the babus.

  13. Gram Massla says:

    For all practical purposes It is a binary world. The CCP has the money and have stolen enough relevant technology to become a legitimate counter to American hegemony. Indian planners have to come to terms with that. Since the CCP is clearly bent on crippling the Indian state formularies have to assembled to counter this. India has to boldly foray into the realm of offense. Wars are not fought with weapons alone. India has the means to defend her borders. The CCP’s belligerence reveals its weak underbelly which is its iron and illegitimate grip over its own people. To maintain this control the CCP must, of necessity, undermine India which has a strong tradition of democracy where Indians periodically rebuild and restore the social contract between the rulers and the ruled. The CCP must undermine this process by showing the Indian political state as weak, indecisive which will ultimately lead to chaos, playing on the traditional Chinese people’s fear of chaos and disorder. However, the truth is that the very foundation of the CCP is corruption. The CCP will not be bound by internationally accepted rules and thrives by subverting rules. This is especially true in international trade. A trading system controlled by the CCP will inevitably lead to chaos. In the long term the CCP can survive only by weakening functioning democracies.. Watch CCP tv. The commentaries are all about chaos in the current American political theater. To combat the CCP think outside the box and take the case to the Chinese people; that there is no alternative to democracy with its attendant freedoms. In this India certainly needs allies.

  14. Kunal Singh says:

    EAM should replace his weird floral tie nd handkerchief with normal plain tie. That’s the only way to correct foreign policy.

  15. Cyz says:

    Its bit off the topic but just like strong economy enables you to have a strong military is vice versa possible

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