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A Complex Visit, Geostrategically

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr is scheduled to visit India in September 2023 for the first time as US President, as he shall attend the Summit of G20 Leaders in New Delhi. Diplomats believe that the timing of President Biden’s visit to the South Asian nation is more difficult and complex, both geo-strategically and bilaterally, than that of his predecessors. According to sources close to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the President shall hold detailed discussions on bilateral trade and strategic ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, apart from attending the Summit.

Donald Lu, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, recently said: “This is gonna be a big year. Of course, India is hosting the G20. This year, the US is hosting APEC. Japan is hosting the G7. We have lots of our QUAD members who are taking on leadership roles. And it provides opportunities for all of us to bring our countries closer together.” He told Press Trust of India (PTI): “I know our President is looking forward to travelling to India in September. That will be his first trip to India as part of the G20 Leaders Summit. We are really excited about what’s to come in the next few months.” Lu added: “We’re only a little over three months into this new year. And we’ve had a number of really exciting things that happened.

It may be noted that the Biden Administration recently appointed Eric Michael Garcetti as the new US Ambassador to India. Commenting on this issue, Lu stressed: “Garcetti has already received a really warm welcome from our Indian and American staff at the US Embassy. Once he presents his credentials, he is looking forward to meeting with the rest of India and I think India will find that he is young, he is enthusiastic, and he’s eager to bring our relations to new heights.” According to Lu, top officials from the US Departments of State, Finance and Commerce shall visit India in the next four months (ahead of the arrival of President Biden), and their visit will create a perfect atmosphere for the Biden-Modi meeting.

The overall geostrategic conflict has escalated after the Russia-Ukraine War and the Sino-US economic war over the past year. A Cold War-like bloc division situation has also been created. India and the US are yet to come close to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), in spite of persistent efforts over the last couple of years. On the other hand, India has strengthened defence and trade ties with Russia, ignoring economic sanctions imposed on the Kremlin by Washington DC. Also, India has gradually increased its oil import from Russia, while maintaining a strategic relationship with the US. All these developments have made the situation quite complicated.

Of course, the upcoming visit of President Biden to India cannot resolve all the outstanding bilateral issues. Ranendra ‘Ronen’ Sen, a senior Indian diplomat who served as India’s Ambassador to the US from August 2004 to March 2009, has claimed that he was in close contact with President Biden when the former was working on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. “Based on that, I can say that the US President does not believe in conflict or creating conflict in any case. He prefers to respect institutions. President Biden is likely to maintain a diplomatic balance in foreign policy,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, a section of Indian diplomats is of the opinion that the world has been divided into two camps over the Russia-Ukraine War, and the US is heading the anti-Russia camp. In a situation like this, it may not be possible for President Biden to sign a FTA with India while maintaining a diplomatic balance. Hence, the next few months are expected to be very crucial for India-US diplomatic relations.

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