Biden Has An Opportunity to Strengthen Ties to India, Central Asia

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When President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, one of the priorities he outlined in his national security strategy was strengthening America’s role in Asia. In the document, his administration highlighted America’s vital interest in the Indo-Pacific, a region it has identified as the “epicenter of 21st century geopolitics.”

The same section states that a “free and open Indo-Pacific can only be achieved if [America builds] collective capacity.” As a result, the administration says it will work hard to build on relationships with partners in South Asia; enhance its alliances with Australia, Japan, and South Korea; pursue warmer relations with India; and find ways to contain China.

During his first year in office, Biden acted on this, working with Asian officials to distribute COVID vaccines throughout Asia. The administration worked hard to “temporarily waive property rights for COVID-19 vaccines,” which helped combat the pandemic in Asia.

Biden continued in 2022 with programs designed to strengthen security and economic cooperation with the region, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), whose 12 countries collectively represent 40 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product.

Outside of the IPEF, Biden’s new strategy in the Indo-Pacific region has been to “strengthen health security, address maritime challenges, increase connectivity, and deepen people-to-people ties” between the U.S. and the Indo-Pacific. The ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership will seek to establish “deeper bonds” between the U.S. and its Southeast Asian partners.

But Biden and his team must not forget about the significant potential of India and Central Asia to limit China’s role in Asia, as well as Russia’s.

India has a strong economic, technological, and energy relationship with Russia, which accounts for $46 billion in imports to India since 2021 and 40 percent of India’s crude oil imports. India also purchases much defense equipment from Russia, which has also stated it is “willing to transfer technology and license weapons production in India.”

The U.S. should strengthen relations with India to reduce its dependency on Russia, something it has already sought to do by strengthening economic ties. In 2022, bilateral trade between the U.S. and India exceeded $191 billion. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Treasury implemented the U.S.-India Economic and Financial Partnership, and there have been “significant cross-border investments.”

Biden should also establish a strong technological relationship with India. During his recent meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two leaders announced the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology, which will create an “open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem” between the two countries. Information-sharing via this program will give India a competitive edge in, which would reduce its dependency on Russia for technological equipment.

Finally, the Biden administration should work to wean India from Russian energy. According to a recent statement issued by the Department of Energy, the U.S. is working to establish a Strategic Clean Energy Partnership that will advance India’s “energy security, clean energy innovation, and decarbonization efforts.” This could both enhance India’s energy security and make it a global leader in the fight against climate change.

The Biden administration should also strengthen ties with Central Asia, where there are currently no planned presidential visits. This is a missed opportunity. Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with leaders from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan to discuss strategic cooperation. China is also looking to invest in the region.

To combat these Chinese efforts, the U.S. should emphasize the working group it has formed with the five Central Asia States. That initiative has been neglected lately, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken did at least visit Central Asia in February, promising to help these countries “develop the strongest possible capacities for their own security, their growing economic prosperity, and the strength and resilience of their societies.”

Biden could do much more to boost Central Asia’s economy and markets. Currently, these formerly Soviet Asian nations all rely heavily on their relationships with Russia. Trade and exports for these five countries transit through Russia. To counter this Russian influence, the U.S. should encourage the economic integration of the five Central Asian states. These countries could cooperate more heavily with the Caucasus and Turkey, which would result in increased trade relations between these regions. The U.S. could also offer “sanctions relief where possible,” thus boosting their economies.

Biden can also promote Central Asia’s information technology sector, which is “emerging as a potential engine for economic growth.” Already, this industry in the region “produces hundreds of millions of dollars” and attracts foreign investors. A recent report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe also announced that the Central Asian states have advanced their “cooperation on innovation and technology to promote digital transformation.”

According to a World Bank report, Central Asia has “significant natural resources and know-how to achieve sustainable energy security through a transition to clean energy sources.” The Biden administration could embrace these markets. Transitioning to alternative energy will lead to further economic growth and job opportunities in the region, and it will also lead to a healthier, cleaner environment. To date, Central Asia has also received foreign investment to pursue green alternatives, and this is something that will bode well for the region.

It will take time to pursue new economic, technological, and energy strategies with India and Central Asia, and it will not be easy. But if done right, these policies will lead to growth and prosperity and enhance America’s position in Asia.

A closer relationship with India and the five big Central Asian nations will afford future presidents with allies in the region to counter Chinese influence. It would also help these countries become independent, rather than waiting on China to fill Russia’s vacuum in the region.

This opportunity is Biden’s to take or leave as president. If he fails to take it, the Chinese will lay claim to yet another part of Asia, weakening America’s position abroad and leading to further complications in Sino-American relations.

Source : The Hill