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Takeaways from Washington

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  29 Jun 2017 12:00 AM GMT

In his three years at India’s helm, Prime Minister rendra Modi has visited the US as many as five times, which indicates how much Washington figures in his scheme of things. After all, foreign policy allied with business diplomacy is a vital component in PM Modi’s vision of India First. But this time around, there was much speculation over how his fifth US visit would pan out — what with the Trump administration’s hardline on the US H1B visa regime which has mostly benefited Indian techies in the past, and President Trump himself sending conflicting sigls on Pakistan and targeting India (along with Chi) harshly while pulling out from the Paris climate deal. And as expected, there was no mention in the Indo-US joint statement on Tuesday about H1B visa or India’s expectations from the global climate change fund to which Washington is set to cut funds. The joint statement also struck cautious notes so as not to upset Beijing, pledging that the US and India will act as ‘responsible stewards and democratic stalwarts’ in the Indo-Pacific Region, and calling for respecting the freedom of vigation, overflight, and commerce throughout the region. The ‘strategic convergence’ between the two countries put on a firm pedestal by the Obama administration — remains in place with the joint statement calling for enhanced military, maritime and intelligence cooperation. President Trump and Prime Minister Modi were more forthright on terror, condemning all cross-border attacks origiting from Pakistan soil. The US State Department’s move to desigte Hizb-ul-Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist has given more teeth to the anti-terror part of the joint statement. This should be seen in contrast to Chi’s continued opposition to a UN ban on Pakistan-based JeM leader Masood Azhar. Again as expected, Beijing has come out strongly for ‘all-weather ally’ Islamabad, arguing that Pakistan remains a frontline tion in the fight against terror. The US however has backed India’s stand on Chi’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, with the joint statement calling for bolstering regiol economic connectivity through ‘transparent development’ of infrastructure while ensuring ‘respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity’.
While India remains on board as a strategic partner, its ties with the US under Trump will be seen more in the prism of trade and business interests. The two countries are presently doing $115 billion worth of business per year, with the balance of trade favouring India. Clearly, India will be buying more military hardware in the next few years from the US, which is already its biggest arms supplier. Moving fast on its feet, the Trump administration already cleared the sale of 22 Guardian drones last week even before the two leaders had their first meeting, an order that could amount to over $2 billion. Indian companies will be importing energy in excess of $40 billion from the US, while more than 200 US-made aircraft will join private Indian aviation fleets, PM Modi has informed. “The United States and India plan to undertake a comprehensive review of trade relations with the goal of expediting regulatory processes; ensuring that technology and innovation are appropriately fostered, valued, and protected; and increasing market access in areas such as agriculture, information technology, and manufactured goods and services,” the joint statement reads. Significantly, President Trump spoke about removing barriers to US energy exports so that ‘more tural gas, clean coal, and renewable resources and technologies are available to fuel India’s economic growth’. This should be seen in the context of India’s push to move away from fossil fuels towards renewable, which in turn would require infusion of sophisticated technology. So basically, it all boils down to how much India is willing to put on the table as it gets set to do more business with Uncle Sam. The hard-nosed businessman that Dold Trump is, he will try to extract favourable prices on everything he puts on offer. But it is a game two can play, as Chi has shown despite being on Trump’s hate list during the campaign trail. President Trump has already enthused about Indian orders which will ‘support thousands and thousands of American jobs’. He has also expressed support for India’s early membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Wassear Arrangement on export controls of conventiol arms and dual-use technologies, and the Australia Group that regulates the spread of chemical and biological weapons. How New Delhi negotiates the terms of US support to enter these exclusive clubs in the teeth of Beijing’s stout opposition will be watched keenly in the coming days.

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