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July 23, 2013

Biden’s India Visit Is Key in Asia 'Rebalance' Strategy

by Aru Pande

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in India for a four-day visit aimed at strengthening economic and defense ties. The U.S. sees India as an important part of the Obama administration's "rebalance" toward Asia.
 
Biden’s visit is the first to India by an American vice president in three decades, and follows U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip by just a few weeks.
 
The renewed U.S. attention on India in recent months comes less than two years after the Obama administration named the South Asian country as a key player in its pivot, or rebalance, toward the Asia-Pacific region.
 
Gopalan Balachandran, a consulting fellow with the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, said, “It’s not as if Asia economies are growing a hundred times and the rest are all standing still, and you say ‘okay, I will keep [seeing] Asia the same way like I did 10 years ago or even 15 or 20 years ago.’ It’s not possible. To some extent, the rebalancing is necessitated by changes in the global environment, both in politics and the economy."

Working strategically

In an interview with the Times of India newspaper this week, Biden noted that the “winding down of two wars” has allowed the United States to “turn to opportunities that reflect the realities of the fast-changing world.”
 
He spoke of the need for India, China and the United States to work together to advance common economic and security interests.
 
C. Raja Mohan, with the Observer Research Foundation, said both New Delhi and Washington share the common goal of not wanting an Asia that is dominated by China.
 
“But at the same time, India is not going to be a traditional ally of the U.S. eager to balance or counter China’s efforts. I think the shared objective for the U.S. and India is how do we structure a stable balance of power in Asia - and between that - there is much room for India and the U.S. to collaborate,” said Mohan.
 
This potential collaboration is a focus of the American vice president’s visit, as Biden aims to deepen economic, defense and energy ties. Key among the goals is to boost bilateral trade that currently stands at $100 billion.  

Advancing mutual interests

Increasing economic cooperation is not without its challenges. Some American companies have expressed frustration at what they see as India’s unfriendly investment climate. For its part, India has called for a U.S. immigration policy that will make it easier for highly skilled Indian workers to enter the American job market.
 
Despite these hurdles, Mohan said the U.S.-India relationship has come a long way in the last decade.
 
“If anybody would have said that India-U.S. cooperation would be as strong and as dynamic as it is today, few would have believed this proposition at that point of time. The fact is that because expectations have risen so much, there are disappointments on both sides," said Mohan.
 
Analysts say while such disagreements may not be resolved, Biden’s visit will go a long way toward consolidating progress and restoring political trust between the two nations.

Biden's schedule on Tuesday includes talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is expected to make his own visit to the United States later this year.
 
Biden then will travel to Mumbai on Wednesday to give a policy speech at the Bombay Stock Exchange and meet with business leaders before leaving for Singapore on Thursday.