Modi, Trump don’t see eye to eye on bilateral ties

By Zhang Jiadong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/27 19:08:39

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US early this week to meet President Donald Trump, business elites and representatives of Indian Americans. Modi's official trip to the US has received massive media coverage in India, focusing on Trump hosting a "working dinner" for Modi at the White House for the first time. In this regard, the Indian government has scored a win. However, US-Indian ties haven't made remarkable progress.

It is noteworthy that Modi and Trump had their first meeting after Trump was sworn in. This is Modi's fifth visit since he took office in 2014. Major achievements in advancing the US-India relationship were jointly made by Modi and former US president Barack Obama. Whether bilateral relations stay intact has become a focal point of the Modi administration.

Both India and the US put weight on the meeting, but they have different goals. The US is concerned with arms sales, Indian market access, counter-terrorism and security cooperation with India in the Indo-Pacific region. India is concerned with a US pullback on granting H-1B visas, which mostly go to Indian IT professionals working in America.

In addition, Trump's shift on climate change will exert tremendous pressure on India, so climate issues are also a major topic during Modi's visit this time.

However, the above issues haven't garnered positive feedback from the US. Compared with Modi's previous visits to the US, he has kept a low profile to avoid agitating Trump. For example, Modi didn't hold a grand reception with Indian Americans to avoid irritating the US government in terms of immigration policies.

The US has gained more than India from the relationship in recent years. Since 2008, the Indian government sealed a $15 billion weapons import deal with the US, creating thousands of jobs for Americans. As Senior Fellow and Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Richard M. Rossow has said, the arms sales bring more benefits to the US.

Bilateral political and military ties between India and the US are uneven to some extent. India has met US strategic demands to a large degree, but the US hasn't done much to support India, which seeks to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and attain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

The US hasn't even taken India into consideration in terms of the sensitive Pakistan issue. Despite its multibillion-dollar arms sales to India, the US stressed its weapon treaty with India would not threaten Pakistan, and was reluctant to clearly tilt the deal in favor of India.

At present, Western media's dismay over India's political direction is on the rise. The Economist criticized Modi as less of a reformer than he seems. Many in the US believe that India is following the Chinese pattern and is likely to deviate from its original positioning as the largest democratic state in the world. In this regard, the current US attitude toward India differs a lot from its strong endorsement of India and Modi in the past few years.

Against this backdrop, the Indian government has lowered its expectations of the US in three aspects. First, India will still be on the fence and continue to study US foreign policy because of Trump's unclear diplomacy. Second, the Indian government will make strenuous efforts to avert deterioration of Indian-US ties. Third, India will seek common ground in various areas like fighting terrorism and geopolitics to cement its relationship with the US. India's endeavor to improve its bond with the US has morphed into wishes to keep bilateral ties stable.

India and the US will adjust their strategies because the Trump administration's diplomatic policies are prone to strategic contradiction and the Modi-led "Made in India" campaign and Trump-proposed "Buy American, Hire American" initiative fail to fit well with each other.

In the past, the US supported India's development to counterbalance China. But now, it needs India to sacrifice its own interests to achieve the same goal. Consequently, India finds it hard to exploit interests from the US strategy of balancing China.

There are two options for India. India can adopt balancing diplomacy or keep neutral between China and the US to become a real major power and achieve sound interactions with the other two countries. The decision will have a big impact on the international environment as well as India's domestic economic growth.

The author is director of the Center of South Asian Studies, Fudan University.


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