In­dia and Trump: A New Sym­phony in Play

Global Asia - - CONTENTS CONTINUED - By Ru­pakjy­oti Bo­rah

De­spite wari­ness of the trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, new Delhi and Wash­ing­ton are grow­ing closer. the strate­gic im­pli­ca­tions are sig­nif­i­cant for the Indo-pa­cific re­gion.

De­spite wide­spread un­cer­tainty in many world cap­i­tals about the for­eign pol­icy of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, New Delhi and Wash­ing­ton have only deep­ened the grow­ing ties be­tween the two coun­tries un­der his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Whether the is­sues are eco­nomic, mil­i­tary or peo­ple-to-peo­ple, In­dia and the US are grow­ing closer to­gether, and the strate­gic im­pli­ca­tions are sig­nif­i­cant for the Indo-pa­cific re­gion, writes Ru­pakjy­oti Bo­rah. the elec­tion of Don­ald J. trump as pres­i­dent of the united states has given rise to a new era of un­cer­tainty in Wash­ing­ton’s ties with other coun­tries, as many world lead­ers are still try­ing to fig­ure out how to deal with the new ad­min­is­tra­tion and the mav­er­ick pres­i­dent him­self. at the same time, how­ever, the grow­ing bon­homie be­tween In­dia and the us has been one of the defin­ing fea­tures of new Delhi’s for­eign pol­icy since the end of the Cold War. Dur­ing this pe­riod, In­dia em­barked on what is now known as the “act east Pol­icy” (ear­lier known as the “look east Pol­icy”), in ad­di­tion to tak­ing steps to open up its econ­omy. this marked a sea change in In­dia’s for­eign pol­icy, which had inched closer to the former soviet union un­til its dis­so­lu­tion.

although Indo-us re­la­tions went into a tail­spin fol­low­ing new Delhi’s nu­clear tests in 1998, things re­bounded quickly with the visit of then us Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton to In­dia in March 2000. the next ma­jor step in bi­lat­eral ties was the sign­ing of the Indo-us civil­ian nu­clear deal in Oc­to­ber 2008, which ended In­dia’s pariah sta­tus when it came to nu­clear trade.

Former In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han singh was the first state guest of the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in novem­ber 2009, and although re­la­tions once again soured to­ward the end of Dr singh’s sec­ond term, they were back on track af­ter naren­dra Modi took over as prime min­is­ter in May 2014. he paid a visit to the us in late septem­ber that year and soon there­after, Obama be­came the chief guest at In­dia’s Repub­lic Day cel­e­bra­tions in Jan­uary 2015.

since trump took of­fice in Jan­uary 2017, new

Close friends: Naren­dra Modi and Don­ald Trump seal the In­dian leader's suc­cess­ful visit to the White House with a hug last June.

Delhi and Wash­ing­ton have be­come closer than ever. a host of fac­tors are driv­ing this, and they merit a deeper anal­y­sis.

ECO­NOMIC fac­tors

In­dia has one of the world’s fastest-grow­ing ma­jor economies and is now a mar­ket no large amer­i­can com­pany can ig­nore. an ar­ray of us com­pa­nies (in­clud­ing those un­der the trump ban­ner)1 are present in the In­dian mar­ket and are do­ing well. the In­dian avi­a­tion mar­ket is one of the world’s big­gest, and us avi­a­tion firms are do­ing brisk busi­ness in In­dia. at the same time, In­dian com­pa­nies such as tata Con­sul­tancy ser­vices (tcs), Wipro, es­sar amer­ica, Pi­ra­mal, Mahin­dra and oth­ers are mak­ing a mark in the us mar­ket.

Former us sec­re­tary of state Rex tiller­son noted in a ma­jor pol­icy speech in Oc­to­ber 2017 that “as our economies grow closer, we find more op­por­tu­ni­ties for pros­per­ity for our peo­ple. More than 600 amer­i­can com­pa­nies op­er­ate in In­dia. us for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment has jumped by 500 per­cent in the past two years alone. and last year, our bi­lat­eral trade hit a record of roughly us$115 bil­lion, a num­ber we plan to in­crease.”

strate­gic fac­tors

af­ter the Modi gov­ern­ment was sworn in, In­dia en­tered into the lo­gis­tics ex­change Me­moran­dum of agree­ment (lemoa) with the us, which al­lows In­dian and amer­i­can forces ac­cess to des­ig­nated mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties for re­fu­el­ing and re­stock­ing. this is a big leap for­ward for In­dia, as new Delhi had ear­lier been wary of sign­ing any such deal with the us. It marks a de­ci­sive break in In­dian for­eign pol­icy from its ear­lier ide­o­log­i­cal com­mit­ment to non-align­ment af­ter in­de­pen­dence. It now seems to have said good­bye to that in fa­vor of multi-align­ment.

Both In­dia and the us also share con­cerns

In­dia has one of the world’s fastest­grow­ing ma­jor economies, and is now a mar­ket that no large Amer­i­can com­pany can ig­nore. An ar­ray are present in the In­dian mar­ket and they are do­ing well.

about China’s grow­ing ag­gres­sive­ness in the Indo-pa­cific re­gion. the joint state­ment that was re­leased dur­ing the visit of former Pres­i­dent Obama to In­dia in Jan­uary 2015 notes that “we af­firm the im­por­tance of safe­guard­ing mar­itime se­cu­rity and en­sur­ing free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and over­flight through­out the re­gion, es­pe­cially in the south China sea.” this was a first for In­dia, be­cause new Delhi had pre­vi­ously avoided mak­ing ex­plicit men­tion of the south China sea dis­putes.

In­dia is also wary of China’s at­tempts to make greater for­ays into the In­dian Ocean re­gion with its so-called “string of Pearls” pol­icy. un­der this pol­icy, Bei­jing has helped with the con­struc­tion of ports in Bangladesh, Pakistan and sri lanka. China also now has its first over­seas mil­i­tary base in Dji­bouti, which is strate­gi­cally lo­cated on the horn of africa near the In­dian Ocean.

new Delhi has not joined the Bei­jing-led Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive be­cause of con­cerns over the vi­o­la­tion of its sovereignty. the us, too, has stayed away from the Belt and Road, although it did send a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to a meet­ing in Bei­jing on the ini­tia­tive in May 2014. hence, there could be greater room for co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the us and In­dia in the field of in­fra­struc­ture also. Mean­while, In­dia and China re­cently nar­rowly avoided a ma­jor skir­mish in the Dok­lam re­gion of Bhutan, where Chi­nese troops had started con­struct­ing a road in what they con­sider to be their own ter­ri­tory. the tense stand­off was re­solved af­ter al­most two months, although in all like­li­hood it was only the first of more such in­ci­dents.

In ad­di­tion, new op­por­tu­ni­ties for co-op­er­a­tion are emerg­ing in the field of en­ergy as the us has be­gun to ex­port en­ergy to In­dia, which is a net en­ergy im­porter. en­ergy se­cu­rity is now an im­por­tant de­ter­mi­nant of In­dia’s for­eign pol­icy and this is where co-op­er­a­tion with amer­i­can firms could be key. In­dia and Wash­ing­ton are also co-op­er­at­ing in the field of nu­clear en­ergy and us-based West­ing­house will be set­ting up nu­clear re­ac­tors in In­dia as part of the Indo-us civil­ian nu­clear deal.

at the same time, In­dia has emerged as a big mar­ket for amer­i­can de­fense man­u­fac­tur­ers. this is a far cry from the time when In­dia de­pended al­most solely on Rus­sia for its mil­i­tary hard­ware. new Delhi is one of the big­gest arms im­porters in the world, and the us, begin­ning in 2005 with the sign­ing of the new Frame­work for In­dia-us De­fense Re­la­tions, has rec­og­nized In­dia as a “ma­jor de­fense part­ner,” and new Delhi has now bought mil­i­tary hard­ware worth more than us$13 bil­lion from the us. the recog­ni­tion of In­dia as a ma­jor de­fense part­ner in June 2016 al­lows for the trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy to In­dia, which is also a ma­jor plank of Modi’s “Made in In­dia” cam­paign pledge.

In­dia, Ja­pan and the us also par­tic­i­pated in the Mal­abar 2017 naval ex­er­cises, in which the three na­tions brought in their big­gest naval as­sets. In­dia’s air­craft car­rier INS Vikra­ma­ditya par­tic­i­pated while the us brought in the USS Nimitz and Ja­pan brought in its big­gest post-sec­ond World War war­ship, the JS Izumo.

COM­MON in­ter­ests in the indo-pa­cific

un­der Obama, the united states launched the so-called pivot to asia. While trump has not aban­doned the “pivot,” he and mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion have been in­creas­ingly us­ing the term “Indo-pa­cific” to de­scribe the fo­cus of us strat­egy, which clearly re­flects the in­creas­ing im­por­tance ac­corded to In­dia by the trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Dur­ing his speech at the apec CEO sum­mit in Da nang, Viet­nam, in novem­ber 2017, trump said: “I’ve had the honor of shar­ing our vi­sion for a free and open Indo-pa­cific — a place where sov­er­eign and in­de­pen­dent na­tions, with di­verse cul­tures and many dif­fer­ent dreams, can all pros­per side-by-side, and thrive in free­dom and in peace.”

the apec sum­mit was part of a five-coun­try asian tour for trump that took him to Ja­pan, south Korea, China, Viet­nam and the Philip­pines, help­ing to some ex­tent to lay to rest ques­tions re­gard­ing the us com­mit­ment to asia, es­pe­cially in light of trump’s de­ci­sion to with­draw the us from the trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade agree­ment in the open­ing days of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Modi has al­ready met trump for a bi­lat­eral sum­mit, in June 2017, in ad­di­tion to in­ter­act­ing with him on the side­lines of the east asia sum­mit in Manila. Dur­ing this meet­ing in novem­ber 2017, the two lead­ers “pledged to en­hance their co­op­er­a­tion as ma­jor de­fense part­ners, re­solv­ing that two of the world’s great democ­ra­cies should also have the world’s great­est mil­i­taries.”4 un­der trump and Modi, the us, In­dia, Ja­pan and aus­tralia have come to­gether to form what has been dubbed “the new Quad,” fol­low­ing the failed “Quadri­lat­eral Ini­tia­tive” in May 2007.

other fac­tors

at a peo­ple-to-peo­ple level, In­di­ans have risen to the high­est ranks in some of the top us com­pa­nies and also in the amer­i­can bu­reau­cracy. the 3.5 mil­lion-plus strong In­dian di­as­pora in the us has helped to bring the two coun­tries closer to­gether. In ad­di­tion, the bur­geon­ing re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and the us have also been helped along by the warm ties be­tween In­dia and us al­lies such as Ja­pan and aus­tralia. Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter shinzo abe has built a close rap­port with trump and also has a very good re­la­tion­ship with Modi. In­dia, Ja­pan and the us have also been hold­ing a tri­lat­eral di­a­logue among them­selves since De­cem­ber 2011.

the de-hy­phen­ation of us-in­dia and usPak­istan re­la­tions has also helped to bring In­dia and the us closer. this be­came more pro­nounced af­ter Osama bin laden was traced to ab­bot­tabad in Pakistan at the time he was killed by us spe­cial forces.

ar­eas of CON­CERN

how­ever, it is not as if all is well be­tween the two sides. the is­sue of h1 tem­po­rary for­eign worker visas to the us is a ma­jor stum­bling block in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, be­cause trump has many times in the past talked about slash­ing the num­ber, and In­di­ans are one of the big­gest ben­e­fi­cia­ries of these visas. the two coun­tries also do not see eye to eye on some is­sues, such as syria, since In­dia still main­tains close ties with Rus­sia, es­pe­cially on the de­fense front.

there could also be is­sues with new Delhi’s re­la­tions with coun­tries such as Iran. In­dia has re­cently opened a new trade route with afghanistan and Cen­tral asia via the port of Chaba­har in Iran. how­ever, since the trump ad­min­is­tra­tion came into of­fice, us re­la­tions with Iran have once again turned sour, and this may im­pact In­dia’s fledgling ties with Iran.

there are also con­tin­u­ing is­sues re­gard­ing Wash­ing­ton’s re­la­tions with Pakistan. new Delhi has had is­sues with Is­lam­abad be­cause of its back­ing of anti-in­dia ter­ror groups op­er­at­ing from its soil and would like to see Wash­ing­ton use its lever­age over Is­lam­abad to rein in such ter­ror groups. new Delhi’s ties with Wash­ing­ton will also de­pend on the ex­tent to which the trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would be will­ing to ex­ert pres­sure on Is­lam­abad on the ter­ror front. In one of his first tweets of this year, trump said: “the united states has fool­ishly given Pakistan more than 33 bil­lion dol­lars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us noth­ing but lies & de­ceit …”

5 — per­haps sig­nal­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­solve to go af­ter Pakistan on this front.

In ad­di­tion, trump’s pen­chant for cut­ting deals with the likes of China may also dam­age re­la­tions with In­dia, since new Delhi is loath to ac­cept a China-dom­i­nated asia.

the road ahead

In­dia un­der Modi has also been get­ting close to Is­rael. Modi be­came the first In­dian prime min­is­ter ever to visit Is­rael and this was fol­lowed by the land­mark visit of the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter to In­dia in Jan­uary this year. Given trump’s views on Is­rael and keep­ing his do­mes­tic audi-

ence in mind, In­dia, Is­rael and Wash­ing­ton are also likely to get closer un­der trump and Modi. In­dia wants to get into key in­ter­na­tional fo­rums like the nu­clear sup­pli­ers’ Group (nsg) and has been pitch­ing for full mem­ber­ship on the united na­tions se­cu­rity Coun­cil, for which it has al­ready se­cured the back­ing of the us. Dur­ing Modi’s visit to the us in June 2017, trump “reaf­firmed the sup­port of the united states for In­dia’s per­ma­nent mem­ber­ship on a re­formed un se­cu­rity Coun­cil.”

6 although there are still many ar­eas of di­ver­gence be­tween In­dia and the us, the pos­si­ble ar­eas of co-op­er­a­tion far out­weigh the dif­fer- ences. as Modi noted in his speech to the us Congress in June 2016, in the Indo-us bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship there seems to be a “new sym­phony in play.” let the orches­tra play on.


ru­pakjy­oti bo­rah is a Vis­it­ing re­search fel­low with the in­sti­tute of south asian stud­ies at the Na­tional univer­sity of sin­ga­pore (Nus). his lat­est book is The Ele­phant and the Samu­rai: Why Ja­pan Can Trust In­dia. the views ex­pressed here are per­sonal. reach him at ru­ or via twit­ter @ru­pakj

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