Temporary interests are bringing Delhi and Washington closer for now

By Liu Zhun Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-26 19:28:03

After being invited as a guest of honor by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Barack Obama might feel quite special at New Delhi's Republic Day parade on Monday. As the only sitting president of the US in history to visit India more than once, Obama has earned that place as he is sending an unprecedented signal to the outside world that the honeymoon between Washington and New Delhi has arrived.

Relations between the US and India were basically full of caution after India's independence until the end of the Cold War, since an Indo-Soviet friendship treaty positioned India against the US for almost 20 years.

However, regardless of these historical complications, common interests have drawn both sides much closer nowadays.

Washington's canvassing of India does not point at petty interests. It serves a big vision. The US hopes that by building India into a constructive and reliable force in its "pivot to Asia" strategy, it can cultivate a new ally in Asia. New Delhi's geopolitical influence and potential strength can give Washington much more leverage to gain the upper hand in the game with China.

India's approach to the US is prompted by real benefits, including but not limited to more US investments in India's infrastructures, more competitive advantages in bilateral trade, more advanced military equipment and defense technologies, and bigger support for India to get a permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Modi has many ambitions for his country, and the US is one of its best patrons.

It seems to be a reciprocal partnership if each takes what it needs from the other. But such a partnership won't necessarily develop into the deep and reliable alliance as many analysts expect. Although complementary in many aspects, the US and India have little in common at the level of fundamental interests.

Strategically speaking, the US does not want a powerful India that might pose a challenge to US dominance. The US needs a submissive one which could play the role as a supportive underling.

However, India has never positioned itself as someone's yes-man.

Its insistence on an independent foreign policy and ambition to be a major power will not reduce itself to a pawn to counter China's expanding influence and fulfill Washington's rebalancing plan.

Although India, after Modi took office, has employed a more assertive "Look East" foreign policy, its focus is still mainly on expanding its own influence.

There are no clear signs that the policy is devised to compete with or even contain China. So far, prudence and tentativeness still prevail when India makes moves in the South China Sea.

Therefore, if unable to transform India into a trustworthy ally, the US, which always asks for payback and never allows free riders, will probably not continue supplying what India requires. When their core interests are in conflict, they will stop hugging and cross their arms.

Besides, India is not the only country in South Asia that the US is trying to court. Washington still values its important connections with Pakistan over counter-terrorism, which has become one of India's biggest concerns.

It would be wise not to conjure up too many positive signs in the current US-India relations.

As of now, the US cannot and will not serve as an impetus to India's rise, neither will India offer the help expected by Washington. Perhaps, Obama's visit to New Delhi, by pushing bilateral ties closer, is more or less an effort to enrich his diplomatic legacy before his tenure ends in less than two years.

The author is a Global Times reporter. liuzhun@globaltimes.com.cn

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