Biden's Balancing Act: Navigating Ties With India In The Face Of A Rising China

Washington strengthens ties with New Delhi despite concerns about democratic backsliding.

Written by Alyssa Varas

What’s happening: President Joe Biden's state visit for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in late June signaled efforts to solidify bonds with Asia's largest democracy as a strategic counter to a more assertive China. Simultaneously, the administration finds itself in a delicate balance, advocating partnership while privately expressing concerns over perceived democratic regressions in India, including the right-wing Hindu nationalist’s stifling of dissidents and politically motivated harassment.

India's significance: Acknowledging India's pivotal role in offsetting China's escalating global sway, the Biden administration announced at the summit fortified defense partnerships, including drone technology and fighter jet engine production, to reduce India's dependency on Russian weaponry. There are also measures to streamline H-1B visa renewals for Indian workers, despite evidence that it may lead employers to prefer lower-cost Indian labor over American workers. Enhancing India's naval strength to fortify the Indo-Pacific alliance is another strategic move to counter China's expansionist tendencies.

Double standard? The Biden administration’s behind-the-scenes criticism of India's anti-democratic actions, such as jailing opposition and suppressing dissent, may ring hollow considering recent domestic developments. Accusations of India’s “cracking down on dissidents” and “hounding” of political opponents may sound familiar to Americans who have witnessed the recent indictment of a former president and the jailing of hundreds of January 6 protesters at home.

Realpolitik: The Biden administration has focused taxpayer dollars on promoting leftist ideology abroad rather than strengthening the country’s economic and military power. Now, with a rising China, the current administration is tasked with navigating a tricky landscape. Biden has to weigh his supposed support for democracy against the need for strong partnerships in the Indo-Pacific as countries like India—not a perfect democracy by liberal standards—emerge as vital allies in the face-off against China.