Modi-Trump meet: a mixed outcome

In perspective

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to the United States on June 25 and 26 took place at a time when the relationship between the two countries had been serious impacted by the Donald Trump administration’s flip-flop domestic and foreign policy.

Therefore, Modi’s first-ever meeting with President Trump was viewed as an opportunity to reverse the downward trajectory of the bilateral engagement. It is against this background the two leaders held a detailed discussion covering all areas of the bilateral engagement and a joint statement entitled “Prosperity through Partnership” was issued, in which Modi and Trump expressed their commitment to expand and deepen the strategic partnership and advance common objectives.

In particular, the issue of terrorism received significant importance during the discussion between the two leaders. The joint statement mentioned the strong desire of the two countries to enhance the fight against terrorism.

Washington has asked Islamabad to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attack on other countries and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks.

The US has designated Hizb-ul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin as a special designated terrorist. The Trump administration’s strong public statement against Pakistan is indeed a welcome development for India. However, the bigger question which has remained unanswered is what steps the Trump administration is likely to take to rein in Pakistan for providing safe havens to terrorist organisations.

This is because these symbolic statements cannot exert much influence on Pakistan’s behaviour unless the US revisits its continued financial and arms support to that country. On the issue of Afghanistan, while the Trump administration has acknowledged India’s contribution to promote stability and security in that country, the joint statement has not addressed India’s concerns emanating from the reviving of the Taliban.

The Trump administration’s recent blow-hot-blow-cold policy towards China had disturbed India. Thus, the focus of the joint statement on strengthening ties between India and the US in the Indo-Pacific and respecting freedom of navigation, over-flight and commerce throughout the region, is a matter of great relief for India. This is because these statements obliquely are aimed at China’s assertive posturing in the South China Sea.

With an attempt at countering China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the joint statement, supp­orting regional economic conn­ectivity, has sought respect for sovereignty and territorial integ­rity, the rule of law and environment. This in turn cleanly reflects India’s concerns because New Delhi has rejected the BRI on the grounds that its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) violates India’s territorial integrity.

The statement that the US and India look forward to working together on advanced defence equipment and technology at a level commensurate with that of the closest allies and partners of the US has an added importance. This is because the access to advanced US military technology will greatly help the Indian military modernisation programme.

There are reports that Lockheed Martin’s proposal to transfer its production line from the US to build the F-16 fighter aircraft was also discussed. The US’ decision to offer the sale of Sea Guardian unmanned aerial systems is also noteworthy as this will significantly enhance India’s ability to improve its security.

Differences apparent

However, on economic, trade and immigration issues, differences between the two countries were quite apparent. While Modi, in his meeting with 20 US business leaders informed them about how his government’s various reform initiatives and they have made doing business easy in India, Trump complained about the barriers that India has placed before the export of US goods and about trade deficit that the US has with India.

However, he did not bother about addressing India’s conc­erns with regard to the H1B visa issue nor did Modi raise this iss­ue, leaving Indian IT professionals clueless about their future.

There is nothing new in Trump’s support for India’s early membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group and for India's permanent membership on a reformed UN Security Council, because former president Barack Obama had already supported India’s case in these multilateral organisations.

The fact remains how vigorously the Trump administration would peruse India’s candidature in these organisations. No monumental development could take place in the nuclear field during the visit. Modi and Trump, however, looked forward to the conclusion of contractual agreements between Westinghouse Electric Company and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India for six nuclear reactors in India and also related project financing.

While Modi’s visit has produced a mixed outcome, it should be hoped that Trump’s statement that India has a friend in the White House, the appointment of Kenneth Juster – a champion of India-US partnership – as the US ambassador to India and personal chemistry that Modi and Trump have developed between them during the visit, would help accelerate bilateral ties to new heights.

(The writer is with UGC Centre for Southern Asia Studies, Pondicherry University)

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