India’s handling of its relationship with US President elect Joe Biden’s choice for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will prove crucial in mitigating stresses that seem certain to appear in IndoUS ties going forward.
Blinken, 58, served as Deputy Secretary of State in the second Barack Obama Administration and as National Security Advisor to Biden when he was the Vice-President.
A foreign policy veteran despite his relatively young age, he has held key positions over three decades and helped lead US diplomatic efforts in the fight against ISIS, the re-balance in Asia, and the global refugee crisis. Already, recent interviews of Blinken ~ considered to be “Biden’s alter-ego” ~ are being dissected by the Indian foreign policy establishment and his utterances seen as positive for bilateral ties.
But perhaps too much is being read into Blinken’s no-blinking stance when it comes to pushing back against an aggressive China. It is also perhaps mistakenly being assumed that his talking up of India, in an oft-quoted interview on the occasion of a community outreach event organised by the Biden campaign on 15 August, as the great democratic bulwark against an increasingly assertive, totalitarian China in the Asia-Pacific is necessarily in the Indian interest. Especially as the likelihood of there being any follow-up action on this aggressive position is bleak given Blinken’s priority will be to dial down the rhetoric and prevent an escalation of the trade war Donald Trump and Xi Jinping were engaged in. Global economic inter-dependence is the Biden playbook.
South Block mandarins have described Blinken variously as a “known quantity” and a “pragmatist” but New Delhi must guard against underestimating the strength of the Democrats’ left-wing which has an ideological commitment to promoting and exporting its version of democracy where group rights trump the core liberal values of individual rights.
The sooner realisation dawns that it’s on repairing the US’ relationships with its European allies ~ which Trump’s approach had ruptured to a significant extent ~ where Blinken’s initial focus is likely to be, the better.
It may also help focus New Delhi’s mind on how to deal with the Biden Administration’s priorities if it examines the delineation of Blinken’s worldview in an interview he gave to the Hudson Institute in which he spoke on the Kashmir issue and the Muslim community in India. “We obviously have challenges now and real concerns, for example, about some of the actions that the (Indian) government has taken particularly in cracking down on freedom of movement and freedom of speech in Kashmir and some of the laws on citizenship,” he said.
He did, of course, offer the palliative: “It’s always better engaging with an important partner like India when you can speak frankly and directly about areas where you have differences even as you’re working to strengthen the relationship”. Doesn’t leave much room for doubt, does it?