Old Wine, New Bottle

The Joe Biden Adminstration will face major challenges in South Asia, whether it is ending US involvement in Afghanistan or countering China’s increasingly aggressive influence in the region.

By Dr Talat Farooq | February 2021


A rising China is perceived by the US as a serious threat to its global hegemony. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with its focus on both land and maritime connectivity, is viewed as an assertive grand strategy seeking to largely replace the western world order by introducing new norms of global governance.The US threat perception is reflected in the ongoing strategic competition between the US and China over the future of Asia-Pacific. For the US, strong security alliances and trade partnerships can enhance the American military’s operational capabilities in the region.

Since the end of the Cold War, successive US governments have been mindful of India’s potential as a counterweight to China. Accordingly, cooperation has flourished in the fields of both security and trade under a variety of governments in Washington and New Delhi. However, it is during the Trump presidency that bilateral relations have strengthened as never before. The two strategic partners have signed several trade agreements, including the recent BECA deal that gives the Indian military access to data considered vital for target precision.

Washington has clearly identified Beijing as a geostrategic competitor, whereas the recent standoff over the Himalayan Ladakh region between China and India has exacerbated perennial security concerns in New Delhi. A massive Indian market and the fear of China will ensure continued bipartisan Congressional support for stronger US-India relations. Undermining CPEC and BRI is one of the key means to contain China and to keep Pakistan under economic pressure. A closer alignment of US-India geopolitical land-based and maritime objectives in South Asia and Asia- Pacific, will therefore remain relevant under the Biden administration.

That said, structural constraints of the international system along with political ideology of policy-makers can impact foreign policy choices. Thus, unlike Trump’s ‘’America First’’ unilateralism, Biden is likely to view China-US relations through the neoliberal lens of economic interdependence and multilateralism in a world threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and nuclear proliferation. As a result, US-China trade tensions may ease, turning the India/QUAD –counterweight - strategy into diplomatic leverage rather than a direct military threat.

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The writer is an academic and an author. She is policy advisor at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research, Islamabad. She can be reached at talatfarooq11

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