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Liu Zongyi: Fundamental issues impede US-India ties


By Liu Zongyi    Source: Global Times    Published: 2017-7-02

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi`s visit to the US last week has become a hot topic among media outlets in India, the US and China over the past few days. The focus is not limited to Modi`s first official trip to Washington since Trump`s inauguration, or media in India and the US hyping up the China factor in the Modi-Trump summit, but also lies in Indian media claiming that the Chinese People`s Liberation Army (PLA) intruded onto "Indian territory."

Apart from territorial dispute, India announced that it would initiate an anti-dumping probe against high tenacity polyester yarn from China.

Because the border face-off and the announcement of the anti-dumping probe occurred around the same time as Modi`s two-day visit to the US, people link India`s bravura with the Modi-Trump meeting.

Modi was the fifth foreign leader that Trump spoke with over the phone since being sworn in as the US president on January 20. However, Trump`s face-to-face meeting with Modi came after his meetings with over 20 heads of state.

Some US scholars revealed that the Indian government actively pursued the Modi-Trump summit because the Modi administration thought that Trump has showed a positive attitude toward China and had become seemingly aloof with India, which is a close US security partner. India worried that China and the US were likely to reach an agreement to "co-govern" the Asia-Pacific region. As a result, Modi`s government urgently needed to reassure itself on Trump`s stance toward India and attempted to make the US-Indian relationship distinctive and special.

The US has already reached a bipartisan consensus that it should push its relationship with India forward to counterbalance China. Developing bilateral relations between the US and India is a sign that Trump`s diplomacy is gradually returning to normal.

In addition, Modi is a popular figure in the international community, so a face-to-face meeting with him would be good for Trump`s image.

Trump differs remarkably from his predecessors, in that he is adept at making deals and values real benefits and strength. Despite Trump`s respect for Modi, an India that lags far behind the US and China in national strength is unlikely to win Trump`s affection. The US-India relationship has been beset by some thorny issues like the US trade deficit to India, the US restriction on granting H-1B visas and climate change since last year.

Besides, de-globalization and the "America First" policy championed by Trump, and pro-globalization and the "Make in India" policy proposed by Modi collide with each other fundamentally.

Modi took two measures to brace for his meeting with Trump. The first one was to seal an arms deal with the US. For America, the weapons deal will not only reap enormous monetary gains from India, but also strengthen India`s advantage in the Indo-Pacific region to check China.

The other measure aimed to demonstrate to the US India`s firm determination to constrain China`s rise. For example, Indian troops crossed the undisputed Sikkim section of the China-India border and impeded Chinese workers from building roads a few days before Modi`s visit to the US.

In addition, the Indian government has started an anti-dumping probe into Chinese products. The Modi administration seeks US support at the cost of China-India ties, and has taken a lead in containing China`s rise.

Modi`s visit to the US is not a historic event, as some media outlets in India boasted, because of the limited results the meeting has achieved. Modi has established a relatively harmonious relationship with Trump.

Both of them made keynote speeches to praise each other and did all they could to avoid touching on disputes between the two countries. The two countries have aligned their interests in defense cooperation and counter-terrorism. The US supports India to counterbalance China, but tries not to offend China as Trump still needs China`s help on many issues.

In terms of combating terrorism, the US designation of United Jihad Council Chief Syed Salahuddin as a "global terrorist" is what India pursued and accords with the US view that Pakistan is a source of regional disputes, rather than a catalyst for dispute settlement.

Such an approach that separates the India-Pakistan dispute with the Afghan issue is likely to trigger more hassles.

Although Modi didn`t mention the existing problems in India`s ties with the US, Trump reminded him of protectionism in trade and investment in India that jeopardizes US interests. As the Trump administration puts greater weight on economic diplomacy, the issues mentioned above will presumably impede the US-India relationship in the years to come.

The author is a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. 

Key Words:India  America  Trump  Liu Zongyi  

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