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Does President Biden Have a Point When He Clubbed India With ‘Xenophobic’ Countries Japan, China and Russia?

Does President Biden Have a Point When He Clubbed India With ‘Xenophobic’ Countries Japan, China and Russia?

  • India has always been parsimonious when it came to granting citizenship to foreigners, particularly Westerners, including those who lived and worked in the country for decades.

President Biden made controversial remarks calling Japan and India “xenophobic” countries during a campaign event on Thursday. Adding insult to injury he grouped Japan, a key U.S. ally, and India, a “strategic partner,” alongside rivals like China and Russia. 

To put it in context, however, Biden’s remarks came when he was trying to make the point that lack of immigration was why these nations were “stalling so badly economically,” while the United States, with its liberal immigration policies, has a robust and growing economy.

Somewhat ironically, Biden described India as being “xenophobic” and fearful of foreigners in his comments made at an event celebrating Asian American heritage.

The remarks drew criticism from experts, who said categorizing the U.S. ally Japan and friendly India alongside authoritarian states was highly inappropriate and offensive. Biden had just hosted Japanese Prime Minister Kishida for a high-profile state visit last month to reinforce their partnership.

Biden also bestowed a lavish state visit on Prime Minister Modi in June last year.

The White House defended Biden’s intentions, claiming he was simply making the point that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants.

Experts disagreed with Biden’s analysis that Japan’s economic challenges were solely due to xenophobia, noting the country has actually been taking steps to welcome more foreign workers amid a declining birth rate and aging population. Insofar as India is concerned, with its largest labor force in the world, immigration is not even a speck in its economic policy considerations.

While the comments put Biden at odds with his rival Trump’s anti-immigration stance, analysts said his lumping together of allies like Japan and India with rivals like China and Russia over their economic performance was an oversimplification that could damage diplomatic relations.

The White House defended Biden’s intentions, claiming he was simply making the point that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. However, the remarks raised concerns about mixed messaging towards key partners at a time when strengthening alliances has been a priority for Biden, especially in pushing back against China’s influence.

Jettisoning the issue of the role of immigration on major economies, which is entirely irrelevant to India, did President Biden, however unwittingly, raise a pertinent point: Is India a xenophobic country?

According to a report in the Indian Express, in five years ending in 2021, India granted citizenship to less than 5,000 foreigners. According to the government data, cited in the report, 817 foreigners were granted Indian citizenship in 2017, 628 in 2018, 987 in 2019, 639 in 2020 and 1,773 in 2021.

While India has not been a destination for immigrants seeking greener pastures, there is no denying that New Delhi has been niggardly when it came to granting citizenship or permanent residency to the paltry number of academics or missionaries — particularly those belonging to the United States and West European counties. There are several instances of Westerners who spent a lifetime working and serving in India who had to reluctantly return to their native countries.

And then there is the recent “communal” policy that has become a flashpoint under Prime Minister Modi’s government. The Citizenship Amendment Act passed in December 2019, sparked widespread protests across India. The law expedites citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India before 2015. Critics argue it is discriminatory as it excludes Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution by basing citizenship on religion.

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The law, combined with a proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), raised fears among India’s 200 million Muslim minority population. There were concerns that Muslims could be rendered stateless if they failed to meet requirements to prove their citizenship during the NRC process.

Protests erupted across universities and cities, leading to violent clashes with police that resulted in dozens of deaths. Critics accused the Hindu nationalist BJP government of pushing an anti-Muslim agenda that marginalized the minority community.

The UN human rights office labeled the CAA as “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” that “appears to undermine the commitment to equality before the law.” The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Amnesty International were among the groups condemning the CAA as discriminatory.

Supporters argued the law only offered citizenship to persecuted non-Muslim minorities from Muslim-majority nations and did not impact existing Indian citizens. However, opponents felt it set a religious test that ran counter to India’s pluralistic values.

Overall, the CAA remains a polarizing issue that sparked intense debate around India’s identity as a secular nation and the treatment of religious minorities under the Modi government.

(Top photo, President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the protests on college campuses around the country Thursday, May 2, 2024, to the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Katie Ricks).

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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