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The dynamics of India-US relations are changing. Since the formation of the Biden government, there have been many ups and downs in the relations. Initially, India and the US were seen cooperating in the QUAD summit but, in the last few weeks, the US has taken many steps that go against India’s interests. In the most recent of such steps, the US put a restriction on the export of Covid-19 vaccine raw materials to India. Although it lifted the restrictions later.
What was the issue?
The ‘Covishield’ vaccine produced in India requires bio-reactor bags from U.S. firms as a raw material. These bags are used to grow cells for vaccine manufacturing. Apart from that, Indian firms also use filters, microcarrier beads and cell culture media from US companies.
But recently the US administration invoked their Defence Production Act. This emergency law requires domestic manufacturers to prioritize federal(central) government purchase orders. The American companies have no option but to produce Coronavirus vaccines and Personal Protective Equipment for the US only. This resulted in restricting the global exports. This is like an outright ban on the export of such materials.
India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. According to Ministry of External Affairs statistics, up to April 13, India alone supplied over 65 million vaccines to 90 countries globally. So the US decision impacted India more. Further, the Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO(produces Covishield) has also requested the US administration to lift the ban. But the US administration mentioned that this is not an “outright ban” and the priority of their domestic demand. The global community criticised this as the US forget to act like a citizen of the globe.
However, in the most recent event, the US has lifted this ban and promised to cooperate with India.
Just like this incident, there are many recent instances when US was seen going against India’s interests. It is despite cooperating recently in the QUAD and visit of US Official to India.
Recent positive developments in India-US relations
From 1999 to 2018, trade in goods and services between the two countries surged from $16 billion to $142 billion. In 2019, overall U.S.-India bilateral trade in goods and services reached $149 billion.
- In 2014 US emerged as the top arms supplier to India by overtaking Russia. The U.S. categorized India as “a Major Defence Partner” in 2016.
- The US helped India to join the export control regimes (Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and Wassenaar Arrangement). Now India is trying to be part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The US not only supports India’s membership in the NSG but also provided certain relaxations to India.
- The development of QUAD: This is an informal strategic dialogue arrangement between India, the USA, Japan and Australia. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, China’s bullying nature, changing geo-economic interests in the region, etc. helped Quad to evolve faster. This resulted in the Quad meeting and the first-ever virtual Quad summit recently.
- Signing military agreements: India so far signed all the Foundational agreements with the US. Such as LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA. This brought both the countries closer to each other.
- India’s participation in Five eye grouping: In 2020, India made its first-ever participation in the Five-eyes grouping. This facilitates intelligence-sharing among the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
- Development of Indo-pacific – The US under its Pivot to Asia policy and Indo-Pacific Strategy views India as an ideal balancer to check the aggressive rise of China. Therefore, the US formulated the concept of Indo-Pacific to counter China in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
- Cooperation in Climate change: Recently the US president on Earth Day conducted the Leaders Summit on Climate change. During the summit India-US jointly announced a climate and clean energy Agenda 2030 Partnership.
Some recent concerns in India-US relations
There is a lot of dynamism in the India-US relations. Despite the above-mentioned developments, there are certain concerns such as,
- India’s defence ties with Russia: The US vies development of India Russia relations especially the defence ties as a threat to their bilateral relations.
- The US did not like India’s decision to manufacture Kamov 226 helicopter in India.
- Further, the US did not like India’s decision to purchase the S-400 supersonic air defence systems.
- The US even threatens to impose Countering America’s Adversaries through the Sanctions Act on India.
- US’s violation of India’s Maritime rights: Recently, one of the US warships carried out its Freedom of Navigation operation(FONOP) in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The FONOP operation carried out approximately 130 nautical miles west of Lakshadweep Islands. This is a clear India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
- The US on India’s Human rights: Recently the US state department released its 2020 Human Rights Report. The report mentions India has several human rights issues such as restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, Crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups, etc.
- Currency manipulator tag for India: Recently, the United States added India to the ‘monitoring list’ of currency manipulating countries. The US Treasury department defines currency manipulation as when countries deliberately influence the exchange rate between their currency and the US dollar to gain an unfair competitive advantage.
- India as a Country of Particular concern: The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended classifying India as a Country of Particular Concern(CPC). Further, the USCIRF also recommend targeted sanctions on Indian individuals and entities for ‘severe violations of religious freedom’
Reason behind US Foreign Policy shifts on India
- Frequent policy shift: The foreign policy of the US always varies from one President to another. So, carrying long-term India-US relations is not an easy step.
For example, The Obama administration worked hard to sign the Iran nuclear deal. But the Trump administration revoked that. With the advent of the Biden administration now they are again working on revamping the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
- Dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan: The US does not see India as part of the Afghan solution. This is because India firmly supports the Ashraf Ghani government and refusing to engage the Taliban. So, in Afghan matters, the US will seek more support from Pakistan than India.
- The neutral stance of India on certain US-related issues: India follows the foreign policy based on its own interests. Further, India did not follow the policy followed by US allies like Saudi Arabia, Australia, etc.
- For example, India maintains a neutral relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US on the other hand supports its ally, Saudi Arabia.
- Similarly, India maintains a neutral relationship with Palestine and Israel. The US on the other hand supports Israel in general.
Suggestions to improve India-US relations
- Both India and the US have to take certain steps to improve their bilateral relations. Such as,
- Expand dialogue on emerging threats in the cyber and space domains.
- Broader collaboration between defence industries.
- Instead of conducting FONOP patrols in the EEZ’s of friendly countries, the FONOP patrols of the US Navy have to identify the potential threat(China) to freedom of navigation in the region. This is evident from China’s “anti-access, area-denial” or A2AD capability and its rejection of the UN Court of Arbitration verdict in its dispute with the Philippines.
- The Indian government has to push for getting relaxations from the US. Such as getting permissions for the S-400 missile system purchase and receiving an exemption from the CAATSA sanctions.
- India can utilise the strong people-to-people ties of the Indian diaspora in the US to claim such relaxations.
- The US government also has to see the big picture. Such as,
- Understanding the global situation of Covid-19 and permitting the exports of raw materials.
- Taking proactive steps towards stable foreign policy development.
Overall, India-US relations so far have many ups and downs. But the relationship continued to improve by addressing the challenges through negotiation. This time too, negotiation with the US is one of the key ways to resolve the ban on vaccine raw material.