India Today - - FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF - (Aroon Purie)

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is a man who in­spires sev­eral ad­jec­tives. Pre­dictable is not one of them. In just two and a half years, he has started a trade war with China, sanc­tioned Russia, shaken hands with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, rat­tled neigh­bours Canada and Mex­ico and put his allies on no­tice.

It’s hard to tell who fears Pres­i­dent Trump more, his friends or his en­e­mies. ‘Amer­ica first’ was clearly more than just a cam­paign slo­gan. It is a mantra the Pres­i­dent truly be­lieves in as he swings, wreck­ing ball-like, on the ex­ist­ing world order. All told, the United States is the world’s pre-em­i­nent eco­nomic and mil­i­tary su­per­power and will re­main so well into the mid­dle of the 21st cen­tury. Its $20.5 tril­lion econ­omy is sig­nif­i­cantly larger than that of China ($13.4 tril­lion) and ac­counts for 24 per cent of global out­put. The US spends more on its de­fence bud­get than the next seven coun­tries com­bined.

One of the mir­a­cles of the post-Cold War melt­down has been the surg­ing In­doUS ties. The re­la­tion­ship, sealed by the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008, has been nur­tured un­der US pres­i­dents Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama. In­dia’s ‘Ma­jor De­fence Part­ner’ tag al­lows it ac­cess to topof-the-line de­fence equip­ment not avail­able even to close US allies. US ad­min­is­tra­tions have gen­er­ally taken a long-term view of their strate­gic ties with In­dia, a coun­try they see as a re­gional coun­ter­bal­ance to China. Lately, this has changed. As In­dian diplo­mats have dis­cov­ered, the Trump view is more short-term and trans­ac­tional. If the

US helps de­clare Pak­istan-based Jaish-e-Mo­hammed chief Ma­sood Azhar a glob­ally des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist, it ex­pects In­dia to re­cip­ro­cate by halt­ing oil im­ports from Iran.

This is not a uniquely In­dian chal­lenge.

Sev­eral US allies have had to fac­tor Trump’s un­pre­dictabil­ity into their for­eign pol­icy cal­cu­lus. Han­dling the US un­der Trump is one of New Delhi’s big­gest for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges. This year, the US over­took China to be­come In­dia’s top goods trad­ing part­ner in the fi­nan­cial year 201819. The bi­lat­eral trade re­la­tion­ship is worth $142 bil­lion, and therein lies the rub.

At least three of 10 points of fric­tion be­tween In­dia and the US re­late to trade, par­tic­u­larly, a $24 bil­lion trade deficit that Pres­i­dent Trump has been ham­mer­ing away at. The US wants In­dia to re­duce tar­iffs and du­ties on a range of goods, in­clud­ing med­i­cal equip­ment, ve­hi­cles, toys, and even cher­ries. The US with­drew its spe­cial duty con­ces­sions un­der the Gen­er­al­ized Sys­tem of Pref­er­ences (GSP) in May that ad­versely im­pacted 12 per cent of ex­ports from In­dia. In re­tal­i­a­tion, In­dia im­posed higher tar­iffs on 29 prod­ucts the US ex­ported to In­dia. The US has chafed at a new In­dian ecom­merce pol­icy that lev­els the play­ing field for In­dian brickand-mor­tar re­tail­ers and hurts US e-com­merce gi­ants like Ama­zon and Wal­mart. There is also Trump’s pet peeve—

im­port du­ties on Har­ley David­son mo­tor­bikes which he wants In­dia to com­pletely re­move.

US Pres­i­dent Trump and In­dian prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi are due to meet at the two-day G20 sum­mit which starts on June 28 in Ja­pan. It will be a fine time to as­sess one of In­dia’s most un­pre­dictable strate­gic partners.

The Trump pres­i­dency has seen H1 B work visas be­come not only tougher to get but also costlier for In­di­ans. The US has shut the pipe­line on In­dia’s cheap oil im­ports from Iran, raising our oil im­port bill. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion open­ing up talks with the Tal­iban has im­per­illed New Delhi’s deep in­vest­ments in the re­gion. There is another elephant in the room—Russia, a coun­try that the US re­gards as an ad­ver­sary but which is one of In­dia’s clos­est strate­gic partners. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­sponded to In­dia’s purchases of Russia mis­sile sys­tems such as the S-400 by threat­en­ing to im­pose sanc­tions.

Our cover story, ‘Trad­ing Punches’, by Group Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor (Pub­lish­ing) Raj Chen­gappa, ex­am­ines the is­sues be­fore In­dia and the US. When Chen­gappa, in an ex­clu­sive interview with US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, asked him what they dis­cussed when he met with the In­dian lead­er­ship, Pom­peo said, “We spoke on how we can make this a different age, a different time. We can be more am­bi­tious in our re­la­tion­ship. We can make pos­i­tives out of trade, mil­i­tary, de­fence co­op­er­a­tion is­sues. There is a real com­mit­ment, a deep un­der­stand­ing of how our coun­tries can work to­gether. In ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion with the lead­er­ship to­day, there was an un­der­stand­ing that for the sake of our two peoples, the re­gion and the world as well, Amer­ica and In­dia need to be good partners. We ben­e­fit from In­dia, and you ben­e­fit from us.”

There is likely to be in­tense give-and-take in the Indo-US re­la­tion­ship. Ex­actly the way the US pres­i­dent likes it. As a WTO sig­na­tory, In­dia can jus­tify its tar­iffs and stand up to US bul­ly­ing. It can also use its sta­tus as a ma­jor im­porter of US mil­i­tary hardware—deals for air­craft and he­li­copters worth $15 bil­lion so far, with drones, he­li­copters and air­craft worth another $10 bil­lion in the pipe­line—as a bar­gain­ing chip.

As one se­nior US diplo­mat colour­fully put it, “In­dia should be treat­ing Amer­ica as a girl­friend with sweet ges­tures by giv­ing small con­ces­sions. In­stead, it’s more like the divorce pro­ceed­ings of an es­tranged cou­ple.” The American re­la­tion­ship is an im­por­tant one. Prime Min­is­ter Modi must draw on all his re­puted prag­ma­tism to repair this re­la­tion­ship and get back to be­ing a happy cou­ple.

Our Mar. 13, 2017 cover

Our Nov. 21, 2016 cover

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