America’s Asia excludes Pakistan

There are several reasons why India has drawn closer to the United States


Shahid Javed Burki April 22, 2024
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

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Given the way the global system is being restructured, a considerable amount of attention is being given to the two regions that are physically at a great distance: Western Europe on the one side and eastern and southern Asia on the other. The main point I want to explore in this article is the way Pakistan, Asia’s fourth largest country in terms of the size of its population, is being ignored by the major centres of global power. Both Europe and parts of Asia are being looked at carefully and studied by the world’s two great powers, the United States and China. This has happened because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The focus on the eastern and southern parts of the Asian continent is the result of the growing tensions between China and the United States. Today I will write about the developments in Asia.

For American President Joe Biden, Asia begins in New Delhi and ends in Tokyo. This definition of the continent was also the case with the administrations that preceded his in Washington. Afghanistan, the country with which the United States was engaged for two decades, is a case apart. Afghanistan is treated as an extension of the Middle East. If these definitions are correct, Pakistan does not figure in Washington’s thinking.

There are several reasons why India has drawn closer to the United States. The first is the growing influence of the Indian diaspora in American politics as well as economics. Several large American companies are now headed by people of Indian origin, and some occupy important policy-making positions in the Biden administration. The latest President of the World Bank is a Sikh of Indian descent as is the institution’s Chief Economist. The second reason is the belief that India could counter China’s growing influence not only in Asia but in places beyond the continent. The arrangement known as Quad – the name given by a former Japanese prime minister -- includes in addition to his county, the United States, India and Australia. The third reason is the interest corporate America has in the large growing Indian market. The Economist, the British news magazine, wrote a cover story on India titled ‘India’s moment: Will Modi blow it?’ “For India to grow 7% or 8% for years to come would be momentous,” wrote the magazine. “It would lift huge numbers of people out of poverty. It would generate a vast new market and manufacturing base for global business, and it would change the global balance of power by creating a bigger challenge to China in Asia. Fate, inheritance, and pragmatic decisions have created a new opportunity in the next decade. It is India’s and Mr. Modi’s to squander.” The magazine’s positive and enthusiastic endorsement of India’s rosy future came with a caveat based on “bigger than usual spate of nasty clashes that broke out across a swathe of central India during this spring’s festival season. However, BJP officials made scant efforts to calm things. Instead, they loudly invoked the right of Hindus to practice their faith.” There is no doubt that India under Modi is heading towards a clash of religions and civilisations. That development does not seem to have bothered Washington. Even though Biden did not include India in his Asian visit, he met Prime Minister Modi in Tokyo when he reassembled the Quad countries to discuss how the United States was approaching the large continent. A Quad summit had been held in Washington soon after President Joe Biden took office.

President Biden began his two-country, five-day visit to Asia by stopping first in Seoul on May 20, 2022. Speaking at a site operated by Samsung, Biden said that the visit to the factory was “an auspicious start to my visit, because it is emblematic of the future cooperation and innovation that our nations can and must build together.” He noted that Samsung would invest $17 billion to build a similar plant in Taylor, in the state of Texas. The plant would employ 3,000 people. President Biden has seized on global supply chain problems to urge Congress to pass legislation that would provide $52 billion in grants and subsidies for semiconductor makers and $45 billion in grants and loans to support supply chain resilience and American manufacturing. The legislation was one of the few notable bipartisan bills to clear Congress. “So much of the future of the world is going to be written here in the Indo-Pacific for the next several decades,” Biden said in his speech at the Samsung plant. “The decisions we make today will have far-reaching impacts on the world.”

The details of the new approach were revealed on May 23 in Tokyo. It sought to bring together many of the same countries that had joined the United States in the Obama initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership from which the President withdrew the United States but it was without the market access or tariff reductions that were central to the Obama approach.

The new framework is not a traditional free trade agreement. It is instead an architecture for negotiations to address four major areas of interest to the United States and the Americans believe also for Asian nations. These are: supply chains that bind the global industrial structure; the digital economy; clean energy transformation; and investments in infrastructure. In a conversation with the press on Air Force One as he was travelling with the President, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s National Security Adviser, said it would be a “big deal” and be a “significant milestone for American relations with Asia. I think this is going to be the new model of economic arrangements that will set the terms and rules for trade and technology and supply chains for the 21st century.”

The Financial Times reported that the administration had diluted the language of the organising statement to encourage more countries to join. Some countries were concerned that Washington will impose labour and environmental standards on them without the trade-offs of better trading terms because of the liberal opposition within Biden’s party. Rahm Emmanuel, the United States ambassador in Japan, explained that the United States “has an interest in saying that we are still playing in the Pacific and China has an interest in saying that the U.S. is on its way out.” However, Pakistan does not figure in any of these arrangements.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2024.

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