Modi seeks partnership not alliance with US

By Long Xingchun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/25 19:03:40

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit the White House and meet US President Donald Trump on Monday. Trump spoke to Modi over the phone four days after he took office and said that the US considers India "a true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world." This will be Modi's fifth visit to the US since he assumed power in 2014 and hence his visits to the US are far more frequent than former Indian prime ministers, indicating the importance of the US to India, and Modi's emphasis on US-Indian relations.

Since Trump assumed office, US diplomatic disputes have focused on its close allies. Trump didn't meet Indian leaders in a hurry, but there has been no major dispute between Washington and New Delhi either.

During former US president Barack Obama's official visit to India in 2010, he endorsed India's desire for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but failed to take concrete measures to support India. Apart from two state visits to India, Obama didn't do much to improve US-Indian ties during his eight-year presidency.

India is neither an ally nor rival to the US. The Washington-New Delhi relationship is not as close as US-NATO ties, where spat often occurs in two-way cooperation, and not as strained as its relations with China and Russia which are saddled with strategic competition and confrontation. Therefore, the Trump administration hasn't given much priority to its ties with India.

Consequently, media outlets fail to find a focus of attention in bilateral relations. However, since Trump slammed the Indian government in his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, climate issue will become a major topic during Modi's US tour this time.

In terms of climate change, the Indian government upholds the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." India has hit the lowest historical emissions and per capita emissions among world powers.

As India is still in the infancy of industrialization, its energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise. The American requirement to set the same emissions reduction targets for the US and India is unfair and groundless.

American financial or technical assistance to developing countries like India under the multilateral framework of the Paris climate deal would have advanced energy efficiency and relatively cut greenhouse gas emissions, meeting the common interests of all people. Despite Trump's rebuke to India, the Paris climate agreement features multilateralism, which means the US is not the exclusive financial provider for India under the deal. It is believed that Modi will not argue much with Trump in this regard. Nor will he make concessions to Trump. However, disagreement in the climate issue will not impede the US-Indian relationship.

The Trump administration's move to curtail the H1B visas used largely by Indians has been a cause for considerable concern in India. In fact, Indian IT professionals working in the US fit the needs of American employers.

American tech firms would not employ Indian IT elites if the firms had an adequate high-tech talent pool in the US. For the sake of Indians, Modi is expected to negotiate with Trump over this issue. In addition, American enterprises which hire Indians will exert pressure on Trump.

Trump has recently sealed multibillion-dollar weapons deals with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. India has been the largest arms importer worldwide in recent years and is a profitable market American military industry firms are vying for. The US has expanded its military cooperation in areas beyond arms sales with India over the years, such as coordination in defense technology and industry, as well as joint R&D and production of military hardware. But what differs from Saudi Arabia and Qatar is that India's national security is not dependent on the US and therefore, the US is not the only destination for India's arms purchases.

Therefore, arms trade discussions will likely be raised in Modi's two-day trip to the US. The two countries may finalize a weapons treaty during Trump's visit to New Deli, smaller in scale than the agreement signed between the US and Saudi Arabia.

Both Trump and Modi put great weight on fighting terrorism and as a result, they can seek common ground. As Pakistan is the target of counter-terrorism by the Indian government, Modi will urge the US to ramp up pressure on Pakistan. However, Trump will find it hard to give Modi a satisfactory promise because of different perceptions of terrorism in the three countries. 

Modi is likely to seek American support to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and back India's bid for permanent membership in the UN Security Council, but he will give priority to economic cooperation.

Trump has put the Obama-proposed Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy on hold since he was sworn in, but American attempts to support India to counterbalance China will remain unchanged. Therefore, due to India's swing diplomacy and its pragmatic diplomatic ties with the US, the US-Indian relationship is expected to move forward under the Trump presidency and the two sides will strive for partnership, rather than alliance. 

The author is a research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.


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