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11.07.2017 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Narendra Modi Visits the US

On June 26 of this year, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi arrived in Washington on a working visit, during which he held talks with the new US President Donald Trump that culminated in the signing of a Joint Statement.

This noteworthy event fits into a series of events that have been held in recent months by all the significant participants of the global political game in line with a tedious plan aimed at assessing possible changes in the strategy of its main participant, the US. Considering the continuing chaos in the system of state administration of the world leader, this task is set to be very difficult.

Mr. Modi was primarily interested in the possible transformation of the entire system of bilateral relations, which, overall, has been developing rather positively since the beginning of the third millennium. However, his attention was initially focused on the prospect of a bilateral strategic partnership, the “expansion and deepening” of which was already confirmed in the preamble of the Joint Statement.

In particular, the leaders of both countries agreed to “deepen cooperation in the field of defense and security based on India’s status as the main partner of the United States in the field of defense.” This specific description of India was designated last year by President Obama, taking into account the country’s rejection of the use of the term “ally” (de facto reflecting the realities closer).

Among other things, this status granted India access to US “dual-use” technologies. This fact is also noted in this document, where it cites talks on India’s plans to buy American maritime surveillance drones.

The “maritime” theme generally took a prominent place in the Joint Statement, a fact that cannot but give rise to allusions to the specifics of the current political situation in the Pacific Rim. Perhaps, its main content is the problem of controlling the most important sea traffic originating in the Persian Gulf, passing through the Indian Ocean, onto the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea.

The South China Sea actually has the greatest potential to become a zone of direct military confrontation that could involve the participation of all leading regional and world powers, including the USA, China, India and Japan. The claims of the People’s Republic of China on most of the waters of the South China Sea, as well as the transformation of coral reefs into artificial islands and the construction works on them are considered by opponents of Beijing as a threat to both the freedom of navigation and the territorial integrity of some of the riparian countries within the vicinity.

Recently, public statements by officials and documents published by the opponents to the Chinese claims have used long-standing expressions in which a slightly “coded” message (that is, without mentioning China) alluding to who exactly is causing the concern of these individuals is included. The joint statement under discussion was also no exception in which the word “China” never occurs at all.

However, certain phrases on “the importance of ensuring the freedom of navigation, flying in airspace and trade in the region”, while “all nations” are being called for a “peaceful way of settling territorial disputes”, and, finally, it is hoped that other “countries” of the region will comply with the principles set forth in this document.

There is an intention is to accelerate the “implementation” of the bilateral agreement of 2015 on the exchange of information on the general mechanisms of sea traffic operations in the region (White Shipping). The importance of holding annual Malabar joint naval exercises, in which the Japanese Navy now regularly participate, is underlined.

However, in the “Shoulder-to-Shoulder against Terrorism” section, both leaders did not consider it necessary to observe a particularly similar policy with regard to Pakistan, which is now the de facto closest ally of the People’s Republic of China. Islamabad was addressed with a call “to ensure that terrorist attacks against other countries will not be carried out from the territory of Pakistan.” It was also proposed to “promptly” punish the participants of terrorist attacks on Mumbai (committed in November 2008) and (in January 2016) on the Pathankot settlement along the border with India.

In the same section, on behalf of India, the “hallmark” of the inclusion on the American “List of Global Terrorists” of Sayeed Salahudeen, leader of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen movement operating in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, is expressed. This decision was made by the American leadership the day before the Modi’s visit to Washington.

Apparently, the United States is finally turning towards India, away from its key regional ally of the Cold War, which, we repeat, is now de facto a key ally of Beijing.

The support of the United States for the two most important foreign policy objectives of India, due to its desire to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and to join the so-called Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), has attracted attention. Earlier, we already noted China’s rather calm attitude towards the prospect of India achieving both these goals.

As part of the plan for the expansion of cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, an agreement was reached on the construction of six nuclear reactors in India by the American company Westinghouse Electric Corporation. For Westinghouse, currently close to bankruptcy (from which the Japanese conglomerate Toshiba has just withdrawn), arrival on the Indian market can become the anchor of salvation.

Perhaps, there was a deal: Delhi’s intention to join the NSG (which provokes certain questions in connection with India’s non-participation in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) receives American support in exchange for the securing of Westinghouse contracts.

A separate section of the Joint Statement is devoted to economic cooperation. We note here that the volume of bilateral trade in 2016 reached an impressive level of almost USD 115 billion, and the United States now occupies first place among India’s trading partners. However, there are problems that irritate both sides in this area.

The main claims of American companies are reduced to the remaining obstacles in the Indian legislation to the development of foreign business on the territory of the country, the non-observance of copyrights of products manufactured under licenses, corruption and bureaucratic red tape. Since coming to power (as well as during this visit) Mr. Mody has emphasized in every way the desire of his government to eliminate such restrictions.

In turn, Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant messages affect such sensitive aspects of relations with India as the multi-year presence in the American IT industry of several million Indian programmers who are in the United States on a working H1B visa.

On the whole, experts see the main problem of bilateral relations in the sphere of economics in combining the content side of memes emanating from Modi and Trump, which respectively read “make in India” and “buy American-made”.

The symbol of success in the process of their coordination may be the implementation of an agreement between the American company Lockheed Martin and the Indian Tata Advanced Systems on the organization in India of the production of F-16 fighter aircraft with all the latest modifications. This was signed a week before Modi’s trip to Washington. At the same time, the leaders of both companies emphasized in every way possible that Lockheed shall remain a supplier of important components that “will provide jobs for thousands of Americans”.

Finally, on the sidelines, Beijing was observing the proceedings of the visit of the Prime Minister of India to the United States with understandable interest, as they believe that in the geopolitical game with China, Washington will not be able to turn Delhi into a pawn. At the same time, references are made to the report of the Atlantic Council “Transformation of the Role of India from Balance to Leadership”, also appearing a week before the visit of Narendra Modi to Washington.

From all appearances, China does not intend to abandon the “struggle for India” with the United States. Beijing continues to hope that Delhi will still appreciate the benefits that the country could potentially derive from joining the realization of the concept of the Great Silk Road revival.

We recall, however, that India ignored the previous forum on this topic that was held in Beijing. We also note here that during Modi’s visit, another wave of the aggravation of the situation on the China-India border in the Sikkim Region broke out that was enough cause to provoke rumbles of opposition from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.

In general, it seems the increase in the importance of the United States in the foreign policy course of India is obvious enough, and the results of the last trip of the country’s prime minister to the US capital is clear confirmation.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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