India Has Much at Stake in Biden’s Tone on China: Expert

By Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
December 31, 2020Updated: January 6, 2021

NEW DELHI—As the world transitions out of a pandemic year that also ended with presidential elections in the United States, it has questions about what Joe Biden is thinking about China.

China will not stop its expansionist activities even while the world waits to hear about what a Biden China policy would look like should he become president, and this communication gap can be very critical for global affairs, said a New Delhi-based geo-strategic analyst.

Professor Harsh V. Pant, the head of the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank and a professor of international relations with the Department of Defense Studies and King’s India Institute at the King’s College London told The Epoch Times on the phone that Biden’s silence on China has created a “critical situation” and it concerns countries like India that are facing a direct threat from the CCP.

“It seems that the appointments that he’s making are not defined by a particular sense of direction, they are more defined by his domestic priorities,” said Pant. “I think, therefore, the challenge for the rest of the world is that it is looking at America. They are not getting a sense of any direction from him or his transition team as to where he wants to go. And therefore, it becomes a very, very critical part.”

Pant said the Trump administration’s China policy was very “robust” and in November the State Department came up with a “China paper” that clearly outlined the challenges that the United States faces, but the current political uncertainty after the elections has created a gap.

“How do the rest of the world take it seriously at a time when there is a transition happening within America?” he said adding that Biden’s silence on China would mean “being shaped by Chinese behavior.”

“If they think they have the luxury of six months, seven months, eight months to define what they want to do with China, I’m afraid by the time they come to this question, the pieces on the board will already have been stacked against them,” said Pant.

The Epoch Times reached out to Biden’s transition team but didn’t get any comments responding to the concerns Pant raised.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attend the opening ceremony of the 6th China–U.S. Security and Economic Dialogue and 5th round of China–U.S. High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange at Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing on July 9, 2014. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

Biden Needs to Articulate it

Pant said Biden should articulate his China Policy “as soon as possible” because if America is not “proactive” now, it would have to be “reactive” later. He said not clearly defining a policy is also a defined policy.

“Otherwise, they [American administration] will be reacting to what China has already done to the larger reality, especially in the Indo Pacific,” he said.

Pant who’s also a non-resident fellow with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, D.C., said if Biden doesn’t articulate his China policy in time, it’ll result in him accepting a lot of problems that the Chinese have created in the world.

“So I think the model which Mr. Trump very rightly put aside or very rightly discarded, that model might possibly come back in American foreign policy,” said Pant.

He said this model that Trump discarded was actually a foreign policy failure because it led to a situation where China started to dictate the agenda.

“I think that’s very true, perhaps it is true,” said Pant when asked if the uncertainty in Biden’s China policy is deliberate.

“And especially the kind of appointments that he has made, gives you a sense, perhaps of his priorities. We have had John Kerry, for example, who is reported to have said that the climate change is a much greater threat than China.”

Biden has picked Kerry, who signed the Paris Climate Agreement on behalf of the U.S. administration in 2016, as the U.S. presidential envoy on climate change. As the U.S. Secretary of State in the Obama administration, Kerry met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2014 to discuss cooperation between the two countries on climate change.

Li Shuo, senior climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace China, talked about “creative diplomacy” between the United States and China at the China Dialogue event hosted in late November and reminded the gathering about the meeting between Kerry and Xi.

Pant said the Chinese have a window of opportunity with Biden. “They have seen that Mr. Trump was very, very strong and there was little possibility of negotiating with Trump under the given conditions. So they have an opportunity to have space, they have a window of an opportunity with Mr. Biden.”

He said the Chinese regime is “making all kinds of noises” and there’s a possibility that climate change “would become the glue that might take them [Biden and team] to the Chinese and say let’s get on and let’s get a deal in place.”

He said this will further allow the United States to let China set the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, which will be very critical since China is currently defining the architecture of the South-China sea.

“So that would be a travesty. But I think that’s a real possibility because from Beijing’s side they look at it as a window of opportunity and they will push their case and make sure that the Biden administration gets the message,” said Pant.

Epoch Times Photo
Then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the United Nations Signing Ceremony for the Paris Agreement climate change accord that came out of negotiations at the COP21 climate summit a year before in December in Paris, in New York City on April 22, 2016. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

India’s Leadership in Indo-Pacific

Pant said that since Biden hasn’t articulated his China policy, China may think that it can possibly manage Biden much more effectively than they could manage Trump.

“And that’s certainly not good news for Indo-Pacific and certainly not a good news for American allies and partners in the region,” said Pant adding that the kind of “mixed signals” that Biden is giving indicates that he’s not confident of his own line.

He said if Biden doesn’t articulate his China policy the challenges will become huge and almost be a “fait accompli” by the Chinese.

“Today, much like what happened when Mr. Obama did not challenge China in the South China Sea. Today China is basically giving a fait accompli. In the South China Sea, the architecture has changed, your [American] reputation has changed and nothing anyone can do to change that,” said Pant.

He said India, one of the U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific has been standing up to China despite its limitations and has been expanding its regional networks and partnerships with countries it considers important.

“The whole notion of Indo-Pacific, the way India has projected it and making it possible for countries like Germany, France, European Union to accept it today, is a larger indication that India’s leadership is becoming more and more important and therefore for America which has to deal with rising China and the fact that it needs partnerships,” said Pant.

India and China have faced a tense border standoff in the eastern Ladakh region since May this year and the diplomatic relations between the two nations reached their lowest after a bloody conflict in the Galwan river valley in Ladakh. Since then many rounds of negotiations between the two countries have not yielded any results while the military deployment continues during the intense winter.