Monday, June 17, 2024
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Trump assigns tough homework to Modi

India-United States relationship is entering a new phase. The two countries could not issue a joint statement after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. The Indian side unilaterally titled a document as ‘joint statement’ and the US side apparently won’t object. Modi is free to extract propaganda advantage domestically. Indeed, editorials and expert opinions have already appeared. The balance sheet, however, reveals a complex story. Modi had three main objectives one, signalling to President Donald Trump that India can be a significant contributor to his ‘America First’ project. Modi flaunted Spicejet’s decision to order 205 civil aircraft from Boeing (worth Rs 150,000 crores) and India’s interest to import LNG from the US (worth Rs 45000 crores) as tangible evidence of India’s capacity to produce jobs in US economy. Two, Modi hoped to moderate Trump’s harsh criticism about trade imbalance (Rs. 3000 crores). Three, Modi hoped to influence Trump’s policy toward Pakistan in a direction that dovetails with India’s “muscular diplomacy”. Finally, Modi hoped to revive the verve of US-Indian strategic partnership, which is riveted on Obama administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’. In strategic terms, India hopes that US would build it up as counterweight to China. Modi hopes to persuade Trump that this can be a ‘win-win’ enterprise, as India will source huge quantities of weapons from American vendors. Basically, Modi’s gameplan narrows down to capturing Trump’s attention span by holding out prospects of lucrative export business for American companies in Indian market. Indeed, it matches Trump’s election pledge.
Modi omitted the H-1 B visa issue altogether from his ‘talking points’ so as not to provoke Trump (who takes a tough line on immigration and ‘outsourcing’). Perhaps, this was a pragmatic approach, considering Trump’s reputation in the diplomatic arena for being credulous, impressionable and narcissistic. Modi got a 20-minute meeting with Trump and family in their living room. He extended an invitation to Trump’s daughter Ivanka to lead the US delegation to an international conference on entrepreneurs which India is hosting later this year. Ivanka accepted. Ivanka is credited with having influence on her father and Modi hopes to open a ‘back channel’ to Trump. Will this smart-looking game plan work with Trump, who is a hard-nosed businessman who declared bankruptcy not less than 6 times and still rose like Phoenix from the ashes to become a billionaire and thereafter to become the most powerful man in the world?
Although supposedly a novice to politics, didn’t he take on the political class in America famous for ruthlessness and skulduggery? The short answer is it is sheer naivety to underestimate Trump’s political instincts. Of course, he thanked Modi for promising to shortly make a gift of 2 lakhs core rupees worth business for Boeing Company and the US shale industry. Nonetheless, he didn’t feel obliged. He went on to do some blunt talking with Modi publicly: “I look forward to working with you, Mr. Prime Minister, to create jobs in our countries, to grow our economies, and to create a trading relationship that is fair and reciprocal. It is important that barriers be removed to the export of U.S. goods into your markets, and that we reduce our trade deficit with your country.” That was plain speaking, setting aside protocol niceties, talking down to the elected leader of a sovereign country. But that is quintessential Trump. While, here in India, the drum-beaters are fantasizing about ‘good chemistry’ between Modi and this 900-pound gorilla. Given the state of Indian economy, Trump handed down to Modi difficult homework in regard of market access for US companies, removal of tariff barriers and implementation of intellectual property laws. On June 21, US Trade Representative identified intellectual property rights and ‘pricing on pharmaceuticals and medical devices’ and an unspecified list of other ‘irritants’ in trade with India.
Trump has ordered a report on redressing trade deficits with 16 priority countries, including India. Trump was non-committal on Pakistan and China. He is still figuring out a way in Afghanistan but he understands that US needs Pakistan’s cooperation. Again, if there is one country that can give a decisive push to America First’ by making massive investments, it is China. Ali Baba group pledges to create 10 lakhs new jobs in America. Trump has discarded Obama’s ‘pivot’ strategy and is not visualising India as ‘counterweight’ to China. In sum, if India wants to buy weapons from America, it is fine with Trump as business deals. But he may as well seek China’s help to influence Pakistan to cooperate in an Afghan settlement. After the US visit, Modi’s foreign-policy architecture looks shaky.

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