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Amidst shifting geopolitical equations in the Asia-Pacific region, US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster has called for forging a robust strategic economic partnership with India and pitched for enhanced defence collaboration across the spectrum.In a defining speech on India-US relations, organised by Carnegie India and the US Embassy in New Delhi, Mr Juster projected the growing importance of India-US ties and the need to “build upon this foundation in a flexible but purposive manner”.The US ambassador’s big-picture presentation of India-US relations comes ahead of a likely meeting later this month between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.
Economic ties through strategic lens
Proposing a Free Trade Agreement with India in future, the ambassador pointed out that India could be an alternative for US companies exiting China. He also assured that US President Trump’s call of “America first” and Indian Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” initiatives are not “incompatible” since mutually beneficial investment in each other’s markets increases the prospects of economic interaction and a robust trade leading to the technological collaboration and creation of jobs. While India-US trade has grown from $20 billion in 2001 to $115 billion in 2016, the trade deficit in favour of India stands at $30 billion and many US companies are unhappy with the protective barriers put in place by India.
“Increased heft in our economic relationship would necessarily provide a broader and deeper, long-term U.S. commitment to India and the Indo-Pacific region. This would complement our growing defence and counter-terrorism partnership, and moderate any policy differences that might arise along the way,” he said.
Amid the mutating strategic landscape in Asia and the new geostrategic configuration of Quadrilateral as a backdrop, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi held wide-ranging talks with US President Donald Trump in Manila that focused on bolstering India’s military capability and enhancing strategic connect in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Modi-Trump meeting at a glitzy hotel in Manila on November 13 was watched closely in the region amid a collective effort by the leaders of ASEAN and East Asia Summit countries to shape an inclusive regional architecture and China’s declared ambition to be a global power.
The meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Trump lasted for 52 minutes, much beyond the allotted time, signalling that despite a slew of back-to-back meetings both leaders had serious business to discuss. “There was a broad review of strategic landscape in Asia,” India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters at Manila Marriott hotel, where PM Modi with his entourage is staying.
Mr Trump was all praise for Mr Modi, suggesting a deepening personal chemistry between the two leaders. “He’s become a friend of ours and a great gentleman doing a fantastic job in bringing around lots of factions in India — bringing them all together,” he said.
Bonhomie and backslapping apart, the overarching thrust of the discussions was on spurring the rise of India as a major global power and enhanced coordination in the Asia-Pacific, with an eye on containing China.
The White House read-out on the Trump-Modi meeting underlined “shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
They 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,” said the White House.
With the new geostrategic alphabet of Quadrilateral shaping up as a backdrop, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi met US President Donald Trump at a glitzy hotel in Manila to map an ambitious agenda for enhanced India-US strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Modi-Trump meeting is easily the show-stealer at the ASEAN summit in Manila as the region, specially China, will be watching closely how the world’s two largest democracies plan to deepen their connect in this strategically located region.
With paparazzi frenziedly clicking away, a beaming Mr Modi, with Mr Trump seated by his side at the Sofitel Plaza hotel, struck an upbeat note on the future of India-US relationship, which has acquired a new bounce under the Trump presidency.
In his opening remarks before he began talks with Mr Trump, Mr Modi spoke about deepening and expanding India-US relations and underlined that the two countries can work together not just bilaterally, but on an entire spectrum of cross-cutting issues for the benefit of the region, the world and the mankind.
Ahead of his maiden visit to India, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has projected the US as the reliable partner India needs, positioning New Delhi and Washington as two “two bookends of stability” in the Indo-Pacific region which is being challenged by China’s “irresponsible” rise.
Courting India ahead of his first official visit to New Delhi next week, Mr Tillerson projected an upbeat trajectory of the India-US relations that have been on an upswing ever since President Donald Trump assumed office earlier this year. In a defining foreign policy speech at an American think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Tillerson said that the US is “determined to dramatically deepen ways” to build an “ambitious partnership” with India, particularly with an eye on the Indo-Pacific region and China, which will have “far-reaching implications for the next 100 years.”
Going by Mr Tillerson’s comments, it would appear that the US is pushing for a renewed China containment strategy, with India as a key balancer against China’s assertiveness. Should India offer to be part of this strategy? Opinion is divided among India’s strategic establishment. Meera Shankar, India’s former ambassador to the US, has struck a note of caution. “It’s a culmination of the trend of strengthening strategic partnerships in the region by the US to balance China,” Mrs Shankar told India Writes Network. “A stronger India will ipso facto act as a balancer, without getting into overt containment strategy,” she said. The US should help to bolster India’s rise and capabilities, she said.