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Indian Press ( 12 Dec 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Press on Opposition during CAA Stir, Love Jihad and West Asia: New Age Islam's Selection, 12 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

12 December 2020

• Uniting With Farmers Is Ok – Where Was Opposition During CAA Stir?

By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

• Love Jihad: Checks And Balances Needed

By Chittarvu Raghu

• India, And A West Asia In Flux

By Vivek Katju

• India Must Keep An Eye On Afghan Affairs

By Vivek Katju

• Why Joe Biden’s Choice For Us Defence Secretary Isn’t Just About China

By Rajesh Rajagopalan


Uniting With Farmers Is Ok – Where Was Opposition During CAA Stir?

By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

11 Dec 2020


The decision of the majority of opposition parties to support the ongoing farmers' agitation stands in sharp contrast to their ambivalence during the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), spontaneously started in December 2019.

For most of the period when the agitation ran its course before the COVID-19 pandemic provided the government an opportunity to subdue the protests, the opposition parties acted like a deer caught in the headlights.

In contrast, opposition parties had resoundingly opposed the three Farm Bills when they were debated in Parliament earlier in 2020. Furthermore, they were quick to back the peasants’ agitation that has led to the Centre-imposed rail blockade of Punjab.

These parties were, earlier this year, muted in their criticism of the government's handling of communal riots in northeast Delhi and the systemic targeting of members of minorities communities and civil society activists, many of whom are still under detention.

Like the present farmers' stir, the 2019 protests too had been started by disparate groups and citizens who had little or no interest in entering electoral politics, but were united by their opposition to the contentious citizenship law.

The choice of opposition parties to join forces with the protestors in this instance, although they kept an arm’s length from the CAA stir, indicates that the bulk of India’s opposition is unsure of criticising government decisions that are ideological in nature.

This reflects the success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the past few years to posit its political posture as the only one which is in national interest.

After its re-election in May 2019, the Modi government enacted a series of laws that reflected its ideological positions. These included those on issues related to citizens' right to fair trial, their power to question the State on issues people consider critical, the relationship between the Indian Union and the (now erstwhile) state of Jammu and Kashmir in today's context, besides those pertaining to personal laws of minorities and linking religious identity with Indian citizenship.

Amendments in the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Right to Information Act, the passage of the law criminalising instant divorce among Muslims, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution (which stripped J&K of its statehood) and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill were these measures which left the majority of the opposition in a dilemma, for they feared further isolation from the sense of the majority community.

Consequently, when citizens' groups and members of civil society began staging protests from December 2019 across several states in the country – barring the left parties and a handful of others who lent support to the anti-CAA agitators – most opposition parties refrained from coming out in support of protestors.

Muted calls of repealing the CAA was indicative of the BJP’s triumph in building a narrative where frowning on democratic processes and the right to protest was no longer considered politically inappropriate.

It is this sentiment that results in viewpoints like the one articulated by NITI Aayog CEO, Amitabh Kant that “too much of a democracy in India” makes “tough (economic) reforms” very difficult in the country and this ostensibly acts as an impediment to India's growth.

The farmers' agitation as well as the anti-CAA stir are certain to be noted as watershed protests by historians of the future. Eminent historian and public intellectual Romila Thapar has stated in a recent interview that the sit-in at Shaheen Bagh brought back “memories of the gatherings associated with the anti-colonial national movement of the 1940s.”

The Shaheen Bagh dharna was similar to the protests she referred to, because the “anti-colonial mass movement had reached out to women as well.”

After a long gap, women in contemporary India played a role that was not limited to hugging trees, picketing liquor shops and wearing khadi. Instead, they were at the forefront, “attending meetings and adding their voice to the protest.”

In contrast, the farmers’ agitation is firmly led by men although women are present in limited numbers and their roles are limited, especially on matters related to the course of the agitation. The 'missing' women from this agitation is somewhat like the Bharatiya Kisan Union agitation in 1988 when the sit-in at Delhi's Boat Club paralysed the capital and coerced the government into making concessions.

It reflects the inability of most political parties to confront patriarchy which continues seeing women as little more than mothers, sisters and wives of the leaders and cadre.

The three decades plus years that have elapsed since 1988 is also the period when the BJP has emerged from being a marginal political player - with just members in Lok Sabha – to the most dominant political party in India with a majority of its own in the Lower House.

How BJP Ensured That The Majority Of Opposition Became Diffident

Over these years, the BJP and affiliated organisations have secured greater support for their definition of Indian nationalism and the basis on which the nation and Indian nationhood is to be marked.

In simple terms, this means that the BJP has not just ensured greater adherence to the tenets of Hindutva, but has also made the majority of opposition diffident when it came to ideologically locking horns with the party.

Rahul Gandhi told journalists after meeting President Ram Nath Kovind along with other opposition leaders that the farm bills “were an insult to farmers” who were “protesting in cold weather”.

Such sharp words and concern were absent from the opposition vocabulary throughout the anti-CAA stir and events that followed. It even cost them the support of people, as reflected by the verdict in Bihar, where the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM upset the RJD applecart in the Seemanchal region.

What Opposition Parties Today Can Learn From VP Singh-Led Opposition In Late 1980s

After having stayed away last year for fear of losing further ground, opposition parties now sense an opportunity similar to what was seized by the VP Singh-led opposition in the late 1980s. Back then, although political parties were kept out of the farmers’ stir by Mahendra Singh Tikait, the post-1986 peasant movement was heavily interlinked with the emergence of a new opposition political conglomerate.

A tactical alliance between all anti-Congress forces, including the BJP and the left parties, led to the defeat of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress in 1989.

But while three decades ago, both VP Singh and Tikait ensured that their agitations were socially inclusive and gave ample space to Muslims and minority concerns (and Dalits) on their bandwagon and charter, this is no longer being considered imperative.

Furthermore, as the absence, from the delegation to the President, of most of the twenty-odd opposition parties who backed the farmers' demands because of alleged Left-Congress hegemony showed, a rainbow alliance against the BJP is yet to emerge as it had against Rajiv Gandhi.


Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is an author and senior journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He covered the 1988 farmers’ siege of Delhi for The Sunday Mail newspaper


Love Jihad: Checks And Balances Needed

By Chittarvu Raghu

12 December 2020

There is a requirement to have a re-look into the provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance

The Governor of Uttar Pradesh (UP) recently promulgated an Ordinance called the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020. It has been promulgated to provide for prohibition of unlawful conversions from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, by any fraudulent means or by marriage. The emphasis in the Ordinance is on the prohibition of “unlawful conversion.” A conversion is considered unlawful if it is due to allurement, coercion and so on and also by marriage. An “unlawful conversion” is defined as one that is not in accordance with the law of the land.

According to the new law, a wo/man intending to convert to another religion needs to inform the District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate at least 60 days in advance and give a declaration that the decision is free from any pressure or allurement and is being done by one’s free choice. Yet, another declaration needs to be submitted within 60 days once the conversion takes place. Only then will the person be able to attain a confirmation certificate that the conversion is lawful. The District Magistrate’s Office has to exhibit a copy of the declarations on the notice board of the office till the date of confirmation of conversion.

However, the UP Ordinance is silent with regard to the nature of the law governing conversions. It does not provide any explanation and contemplates that whoever is involved in the said unlawful conversion shall be punished with an imprisonment of not less than one year, which may extend to five years. The accused person is also liable to pay a fine. Though the punishment is one year to five years, the Ordinance makes the offence cognisable and non-bailable and triable by the court of sessions.

Generally, in criminal cases the burden of proof lies with the prosecution but the Ordinance imposes this burden upon the person who allegedly caused the conversion. And wherever the conversion has been facilitated by any other person, the burden of proof is on them too. It also contemplates that any marriage, which was entered into for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion by a man of one religion with a woman of another religion or vice-versa, either by converting himself/herself before or after marriage or by converting the wo/man before or after marriage, shall be declared void by the family court.

In case, the couple is in an area where the family court is not established, the civil court having jurisdiction in the area can try the case and declare the marriage null and void. There need not be any independent adjudication with regard to a declaration of any marriage as void as per any other law. However, the fact remains that unless a nexus is established between a marriage and unlawful conversion, Section six of the Ordinance, which contemplates marriage to be declared as void by the courts, is not applicable.

The meaning of conversion by marriage is also not explained in the Ordinance and it contemplates conversion by marriage per-se unlawful. Generally two persons belonging to different faiths can get married under the provisions of Special Marriage Act. However, in some cases unless there is a conversion and both, the bride and the bridegroom belong to the same faith, the marriage would not be performed. Conversion would be a prerequisite in such cases. It cannot be said that it is a conversion by marriage. The Ordinance also contemplates that once the person who intends to change his/her religion has made the declaration before the District Magistrate, an inquiry would be conducted by the police with regard to “such an intention of a person to convert.” The report of the police would be a major factor in deciding whether a person can change their religion or not. It would also be instrumental in concluding whether the conversion is illegal and thus, void.

The Ordinance also contemplates a post-conversion procedure. It states that a converted individual shall send a declaration to the District Magistrate and appear for 21 days thereafter before him/her till the objections, if any, received are decided by the District Magistrate. It also contemplates that if the procedure is not followed the conversion becomes illegal and void.

Though the Ordinance protects people from getting converted due to allurement, coercion and so on, there is a scope for abusing the provisions by relying upon the police enquiry report. The Ordinance is silent with regard to the action of the District Magistrate vis-a-vis the police inquiry report. There is a requirement to have a re-look into the provisions of the Ordinance for the purpose of incorporating necessary checks and balances instead of placing more reliance upon a police enquiry report.

However, the UP Government’s anti-conversion move is not unique. In the past too, several States in the country have passed what are referred to as Freedom of Religion Acts or “anti-conversion laws”. These are mostly State-level laws that are aimed to regulate involuntary religious conversions. Odisha was the first State to pass such a law in 1967 and the most recent legislation was passed in Jharkhand and Uttarakhand in 2017. Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh passed their “Freedom of Religion Act” in 2000, 2003 and 2006 respectively. Taking a cue from the others, Rajasthan too passed a similar Bill in 2006.  Arunachal Pradesh had already enacted one in 1979 and in 2002 Tamil Nadu passed the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forceful Conversion Act. The Supreme Court in the Reverend. Stainislaus Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh case upheld the provisions of the Madhya Pradesh and Orissa Act. Significantly, Madhya Pradesh enacted the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhinayam Act way back in 1968 and Odisha enacted the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act in 1967.

The provisions of both the Acts relating to prohibition of forcible conversion and punishment were challenged before the respective High Courts and were carried to the Apex Court. The Supreme Court had held that the freedom of religion enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution is not guaranteed in respect of one religion only but covers all religions alike and it can be properly enjoyed by a person if s/he exercises her/his right in a manner commensurate with freedom of persons following other religions. It was further held that freedom for one is freedom for the other, in equal measure, and there can therefore be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one’s own religion. The Apex Court upheld the provisions which prohibit forceful conversion in the background of maintenance of “public order.” The Supreme Court also held that if an attempt is made to raise communal passions, e.g. on the ground that someone has been “forcibly” converted to another religion, it would in all probability, give rise to apprehension of breach of public order, affecting the community at large. However, the present Ordinance incorporates a new concept of conversion by marriage. It presumes that every religious conversion is illegal unless the procedure that has been laid down is followed. The term “love jihad” has not been referred to in the Ordinance and its perusal shows that the same is applicable to all religions. The word “allurement” has been defined widely, which may ultimately be a playing field for the police during its enquiry.

Article 25 of the Constitution of India contemplates that all people are equally entitled to freedom of conscience, the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion. It means that the Constitution guarantees the right to practice, propagate a religion and in the process a person may impress upon the other to get converted or herself/himself change their religion.

The  Ordinance comes into play when such a conversion occurs due to the factors like allurement, coercion and so on. It is inoperative while exercising freedom of conscience. The question is whether the police are equipped sufficiently to conduct an enquiry into these aspects or not, so as to come to a conclusion that the choice of conversion has been made freely without any other factors. There would be a possibility of abuse of processes and filing of criminal cases against those persons who propagate their faith, on the ground that they have instigated the thought of conversion in a person. However, a mere thought of conversion to another religion cannot be made an offence unless it manifests into action.


Chittarvu Raghu is an Advocate in the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Courts)


India, And A West Asia In Flux

By Vivek Katju

December 12, 2020

India’s interaction with West Asia and specifically with the Arab Peninsula has witnessed substantial activity over the past three weeks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a detailed telephonic conversation with the ruler of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani on December 8. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the last week of November. Army chief General MM Naravane began a visit to the UAE and Saudi Arabia on December 9 and India and Israel held ‘foreign office consultations’ on December 7. This extent of activity in such a brief period reflects the importance that India attaches to a region where it has great stakes. Equally, it demonstrates the countries of the region place great significance to their ties with India. It is noteworthy that these interactions have taken place at a time of change in West Asia.

Some Arab peninsula countries are re-orienting their foreign policies, giving up long-held positions. In the middle of September, the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain met Israel’s prime minister at the White House in Washington to sign documents establishing diplomatic relations between them and Israel. The UAE went further than Bahrain to normalise ties with the Jewish state. The venue of the meeting ensured the presence of President Donald Trump who naturally took credit for this historic development. Bahrain and the UAE became the third and fourth Arab states to turn their back on the traditional position of the Arab states not to recognise Israel until a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian dispute was reached—Egypt and Jordan were the first and second Arab countries to establish ties with Israel in 1980 and 1994 respectively.

While Saudi Arabia did not formally move to recognise Israel, it is widely believed that it maintains below the surface links with it. As home of the holiest places of Islam Saudi Arabia has traditionally enjoyed great status in the Muslim world. In the past they were in the forefront of support for the Palestinian cause. However, over the years the sectarian divisions in West Asia have, despite the protestations of the regional countries to the contrary, reduced the priority of the Palestinian problem. These sectarian conflicts have led the Sunni states to feel threatened by Iran.

Israel too considers Iran to be its principal enemy. It is clear that the common perception of Iran being a great threat has drawn some of the Sunni Arab peninsula countries towards Israel with the encouragement of the United States especially under the Trump administration. This is because, for Trump, Iran is a rogue state. He reversed his predecessor Barack Obama’s approach towards West Asia. In exchange for Iran ostensibly giving up nuclear weapons Obama had given up attempts to curtail Iran’s role in the region. Trump abandoned the Iran nuclear deal and not only re-imposed sanctions on Iran but augmented them in the hope that with increasing deprivation the Iranian people would become hostile to the clerical order and that would pave the way for regime change in the principal Shia state of the world.

As Vice-President Joe Biden had supported President Obama’s West Asia policy. It is now anticipated that he would seek to return to the Iran nuclear deal, perhaps with some changes. That would lift the restraints on Iran’s regional role and would change equations in the Arab peninsula. As it is the difficulties that had existed between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other are in the process of being resolved. This rift had led to Qatar getting close to Turkey and Iran. The emerging scene is therefore going to be somewhat fluid in the Arab peninsula.

Amidst these changes India’s position in West Asia and in particular in the Arab peninsula continues to remain strong. It is perceived as a major global country and the peninsula Arab states wish to develop comprehensive ties with it. Wisely, India has refrained from getting caught in the contradictions of the region by focussing on developing cooperative bilateral ties with all regional countries. This was also reflected in the discussions which Modi, Jaishankar and senior Indian officials recently had with their counterparts.

There are some common themes in the discussions of the Indian leaders with their counterparts in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. These relate to cooperation in hydrocarbons, trade, in respect of investments by these countries of their surplus funds in India. These countries are also engaging with India in select high technology areas. In addition, there is increasing interaction in the defence field. It is here that the Indian army chief’s visit to the UAE and Saudi Arabia assumes significance. This is particularly so for he is the first Indian army chief to tour these countries. His visit will no doubt be closely monitored by the regional and by India’s neighbours. It comes in the background of difficulties in Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This also shows that notwithstanding the approach of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on certain sensitive issues pertaining to India many of its member-states desire to enhance ties with it in crucial areas such as defence and security.

India’s latest official level talks with Israel reviewed the large and deep ambit of cooperation between the two countries. This will deepen because of congruent bilateral interests in many areas. There is special potential for mutual benefit in high technology applications in agriculture and industry. While upgrading its relations with Israel India has to maintain its traditional positive ties with the Palestinians.


India Must Keep An Eye On Afghan Affairs

By Vivek Katju

Dec 12, 2020

ON December 2, the two parties to the intra-Afghan dialogue worked out, in the words of America’s special representative for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, a “three-page agreement codifying rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire.” He added, “This agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues.”

Peace-making negotiations can get bogged down in difficult procedural difficulties; that would have been the case in this instance. The extent of these problems can be gauged from the need to reconcile the vastly differing nomenclatures used in the two separate ‘joint’ US-Afghan government and US-Taliban documents issued on February 29 this year.

The US declaration with the Afghan authorities was with “The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, a member of the United Nations and recognised by the United States and the international community as a sovereign state under international law….” But the agreement with the Taliban stated that it was between the US and “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban….”

The Taliban do not recognise the term Islamic Republic and nor do they accept the Afghan government as a lawful authority. For the Afghan government, the Taliban are an insurgent group and the use of the term Islamic Emirate would erode its national and international legitimacy.

The agreement on procedures has not been disclosed, but the two sides have been able to find a way to address this thorny issue. One report indicates that they agreed to drop their preferred formulations to proceed. If true, it does reflect the government’s weakness and a climbdown from the formulation used in its declaration with the US.

This also demonstrates the reality that these talks are not between a government and a weaker insurgent group but between, at best for the Afghan government, equals.

Kabul’s weakness was indirectly admitted on December 2 by General Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff. In an interaction with a think tank, Miller admitted that a ‘strategic stalemate’ had prevailed in Afghanistan for many years with the Afghan government unable to defeat the Taliban, and the latter not able to beat the Afghan authorities “as long as we were supporting the government.”

Trump has decided to reduce the US troop presence in Afghanistan by January 15, 2021, to 2,500 soldiers who would be based, according to Milley, in “a couple of larger bases with several satellite bases.” US troops will continue to train Afghan security forces and assist in its counter-terrorism efforts. Milley said that after January 20, 2021, the US contingent’s mission will be decided by the incoming administration; Biden would assume presidency on that day. It is unlikely that he will seriously modify decisions relating to US army presence or its role in Afghanistan, though he will accord greater salience to human rights in the political system that is to eventually emerge from the Taliban-Afghan government dialogue.

The Afghan army has hardly succeeded in controlling violence and terrorist acts with the present number of US soldiers; so, its ability to effectively deal with them with a decline in US force levels will be further impaired; therefore, the emphasis by the US and the Afghan governments to give priority to securing the Taliban’s agreement to a ceasefire. That is reflected in the government team’s demand in the talks currently under way in Doha on finalising the agenda.

The Taliban are unlikely to go in for an enduring ceasefire unless the nature and shape of power-sharing is finalised. That is the current focus of attention of the Kabul political class too. President Ashraf Ghani has alienated a large number of its prominent members. So, it is unlikely that he will have sufficient support for Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib’s desire that the Taliban join the government. Mohib recently said, “The Afghan government is negotiating with the Taliban to find a political solution to include the Taliban in the government…”

The Taliban would like an interim government in which it has, at least, an equal role. It would not be bothered if the Islamic Republic’s Constitution puts constraints in the making of such a government; nor, also would a large section of the Kabul political class. The issue would be who would head such a set-up.

There are many names doing the rounds in Kabul, some of well-known technocrats and administrators, others of seasoned political figures. It will not be easy to settle on a name without outside pressures — from the US on the Kabul political forces and Pakistan on the Taliban. The US and other NATO countries have and continue to lean on Pakistan to get the Taliban to adopt constructive approaches. It has influenced the Taliban and would, therefore, expect that its concerns relating to Afghanistan are taken on board by the US and NATO countries. These include its views on India’s role in that country. Pakistan has exaggerated ideas of India’s desire or ability to harm its interests from Afghan territory, but the Pakistani security establishment is obsessed about India’s presence and actions in that country.

India has moved to reinforce its contacts with political leaders of the erstwhile Northern Alliance; some have made publicised visits to Delhi. These include Dr Abdullah, Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Nur, the influential Tajik personality. It has also acknowledged the Taliban through its presence at the start of the talks of the Afghan parties in Doha in September.

This is not enough. It must shed its inhibitions and meaningfully engage the Taliban despite its deep Pakistani connections. India has to keep an eye on Afghan developments, for events are on the move even in these fading weeks of the Trump administration.


Why Joe Biden’s Choice For US Defence Secretary Isn’t Just About China

By Rajesh Rajagopalan

11 December, 2020

US President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Lloyd Austin, an Army general who headed the US Central Command, as the Secretary of Defense has raised concerns about the Democrat’s foreign policy, especially towards the Indo-Pacific and China. For a number of reasons, these concerns are overblown. The state of US-China relations probably depend more on China than the US, but even more so on the underlying conditions of international politics and the balance of power in the region. While not inevitable, the overwhelming likelihood is of conflict between the US and China, irrespective of who the US Defense Secretary is, or indeed, who the US President is.

The cabinet choices of incoming US administrations are always tricky because they have to cater to different groups that make up the coalition that claim to have helped win the election as well as different groups that the new administration will need to depend on for future domestic political fights. This dynamic is particularly important with Biden because his was a fairly narrow victory, in which he squeaked through with margins of a few thousand votes in three critical states, Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin. Illustratively, in each of these states, the third-placed Libertarian party won more votes than the margin. While Biden has a significant lead in total votes cast nationally, this is a meaningless number in the context of the US presidential election.

Even more importantly, Biden could be the first Democratic Party president elected without controlling both houses of Congress since 1885. This will be decided by the two run-off Senate elections in Georgia, slated for early January. If the Democrats lose even one of these, Republicans will have a clear majority in the Senate. This will be a critical obstacle to Biden, especially since it is the Senate that approves presidential appointments. But even if the Democrats win both, there are continuing internal differences between various factions in the party. Indeed, Biden may have picked Austin partly as a consequence of opposition from the Left-wing of the Democrats to Michèle Flournoy, who was initially considered the front-runner for the post. Moreover, Biden had repeatedly promised ‘a cabinet that looked like America’, which is not easy considering the demands from different groups. Biden’s justification for picking Austin, which itself is an indictment of the internal disagreements about the choice, emphasised that the US Army general “will be the first African American to helm the Defense Department”.

A choice with a reason

While Biden’s choice is understandable because of these pressures, foreign policy analysts have pointed to Austin’s lack of familiarity with China and the Indo-Pacific, the looming security challenge that the US faces. China was not even mentioned in Biden’s justification for Austin’s selection. These concerns are growing because, in addition to not mentioning China, both Biden and Austin used the older term ‘Asia Pacific’ instead of the more recent formulation, ‘Indo-Pacific’. It harks to the possibility that a Biden administration might seek a new compact with China. This fits with the views of what Thomas Wright, a close observer of US foreign policy trends, has characterised as ‘the restorationists’ wing of Democratic foreign policy thinking. Biden picking John Kerry for a newly created cabinet position as a ‘climate envoy’ may be another indication of the ascendancy of the restorationists.

Still, the concerns about the Biden administration’s China policy may be overblown. For one, Biden clearly sees some of these appointments as a sop to the Left-wing within the Democratic coalition, and it may not be an indicator that Biden will seek an accommodation with China. More importantly, even if Biden were so inclined, it is not entirely his choice to make. Whether there will be a deepening conflict between the US and China is also dependent on Beijing’s choices. China has been the driver of the increasingly tense international condition, with its harsh ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, its hostage-taking, and its use of trade to coerce other countries near and far. None of this is a defensive response to the conditions that China faces but an offensive tendency that has many roots. One is China’s growing power. As countries become stronger, the areas and issues they consider as vital to their national security also expand. China is no different.

China’s game too

In China’s case, however, this natural expansion of interest is exacerbated by the hyper-nationalism that the Chinese regime has fostered, an inclination that makes the country emotionally brittle and defensive when there is no need to be and thus prone to picking unnecessary fights. In addition, there is a strategic-cultural element that makes China think it is a civilisational State to which smaller neighbours must kowtow. Add to the mix Xi Jinping’s own messianic view of China’s and his place in history. Much of this is already baked into the situation and there is little that Biden can do about it, making the likelihood of a conflictual US-China relations rather difficult to avoid, short of a dramatic change within China itself.

It is, of course, understandable that Biden might want to focus on the many domestic problems that the US faces, including its economy. But what is equally true is that no great power has willingly relinquished leadership because leadership brings with it benefits that far outweigh the costs. Biden is likely to want to further push US allies and partners on burden-sharing. This is something that President Donald Trump did haphazardly but it has been a long-standing issue in the US’ relations with its partners. But to expect that Biden will do more than that will require an unlikely American exceptionalism in great power politics.


Rajesh Rajagopalan is a professor in International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Views are personal.



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