Election Briefing: Strategic and Economic Views from the Indo-Pacific

On November 9, USISPF and Squire Patton Boggs co-hosted the second virtual event in the Post U.S. Election Briefing Series. The panel featured Former Foreign Secretary of India, Vijay Gokhale; Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, C. Raja Mohan; Senior Director at BowerGroup Asia, Nydia Ngiow; Former US Secretary of Transportation, Rodney Slater; Associate Professor at National University of Singapore, James Crabtree; and Ambassador Frank Wisner as moderator. The discussion was focused on the after-math of the U.S. election, changes in the bilateral relationship between India and the US, and strategic and economic views from the Indo-Pacific.

Ambassador Frank Wisner mentioned that that the President-elect, Joe Biden, will move to reestablish key relationships with Europe, prepare a sterner response to China and Russia, and re-enter the US into the World Trade Organization, the Paris Agreement, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. He added that Biden would work with India to address the rising threat of China. Frank Samolis also agreed that President-elect Biden would adopt a more multilateral approach to foreign trade, but was uncertain whether trade issues would be addressed immediately. However, he was certain that Biden will work towards a more structured, strategic, economic dialogue with China. Rodney Slater added that relations between India and the Biden administration would be characterized by the willingness to be cooperative, and was hopeful for development in the aviation relationship between the two nations.

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale provided key insights into the expectations of the government of India for the new administration. He asserted the importance of maritime strength to India, especially to counter China, and added that India would seek a reaffirmation of support from the Biden administration to the Quad as the Trump administration had. He reiterated that India will wish to work with the US for more humanitarian assistance, increased defense posture and spending, and deeper trade relationships. By signing the 2+2 defense agreement with Mike Pompeo just a few weeks ago, India has made it clear that it is ready to commit to a meaningful partnership with the US.

An important topic of discussion was the Quad. C Raja Mohan broadly defined the Quad as a response to the structural change that is taking place in the Indo-Pacific, as China continues to challenges US dominance in the post war order. He agreed that India is more likely to follow through with her commitment to allies in the region because of the circumstances that have arisen from tensions with China. He noted that much strategic progress could be made if the US were to support local nationalists to produce a regional balance in Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula, and Taiwan.

James Crabtree acknowledged the need to produce a balance of power in Asia, which he believes will depend on the behaviour of China in the coming future. In other circumstances, he added, it would have been unlikely for the members of the Quad to cooperate in a period of such geopolitical tensions. India, as well as Southeast Asia, must work towards strengthening these emerging relationships.

Nydia Ngiow presented her perspective from Singapore. She stressed the importance of opportunistic relationships to give way for more strategic partnerships, and added that the Biden administration is expected to return to relationships of the pre-Trump era. She also mentioned that with Biden coming on board, there will be greater pressure on India to cave on issues of trade. Lastly, she added that multilateralism was sure to be prioritized in the Biden administration.