India’s Prime Minister Narendra Singh Modi’s first visit to the White House under President Donald Trump’s administration has come at a time when differences between Washington and New Delhi have dominated headlines. President Trump’s decision to cite the likes of India and China in his rationale for withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement and his crackdown of the H1-B visa program have signalled a different relationship between the two nations than what they had previously shared under former President Barack Obama’s administration. Calling the Modi visit “a potential minefield,” the Washington Post claimed that despite “affectionate” engagements in the past, President’s Trump’s rhetoric of India as an “unscrupulous negotiator and a threat to American workers” has done little to improve the strategic partnership between New Delhi and Washington. After stating that it was “A strange time for Trump to receive Modi,” the Washington Post also claims that the “closed-door meetings and a private working dinner” come at an interesting time for U.S.-India relations.
Sensing the business-like focus of the Trump administration, the Modi government has been set to present the U.S.-India relations as being mutually beneficial and in the best interest of the United States. A White House spokesperson said that “the Prime Minister’s visit will strengthen ties between the United States and India and advance our common interest in fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth and prosperity, and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.” As such, thorny issues, including the Paris Climate Accord and the H1-B visa system reform, have been placed on the back burner, at least at the highest level. President Trump accused India of profiting from the Paris Agreement by claiming “India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries,” which is a claim that has been denied by New Delhi. Indians are also among the top beneficiaries of the H-1B program account for about 70% of the visas awarded annually, according to CNN. Thus, the clash between Modi’s “Make in India” and Trump’s “America First” are matters of contention that have been ignored for now.
New Delhi wishes to strengthen strategic ties and clarify Washington’s stance on the rising Chinese influence in Asia. As such, India will try to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship and “remind Trump that their countries share numerous interests, especially in combating so-called radical Islamic terror,” according to the Washington Post. However, Time suggests that “Modi will want to know where the U.S. stands on Beijing’s growing regional clout” on his short and relatively low profile two-day trip to the U.S. India will also attempt to leverage growing defence and security ties, particularly the recent sale of U.S. predator Guardian drones worth $2 billion to India to its advantage. Expanding maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean will be another area of agreement between the two nations as the upcoming MALABAR naval exercise involving the US, Japan and India will expand existing maritime engagements to counter China’s growing regional influence.
The U.S. presence in Asia attracts Indian interest as it closely tracks ongoing U.S. revaluation of its policy in South Asia as it regards the Pentagon’s desire to send more troops to Afghanistan, Washington’s policy towards India’s foe, Pakistan, and Trump’s policy towards China. The visit presents an opportunity for New Delhi to influence American priorities for South and East Asia. Congressmen Ted Poe and Rick Nolan’s bipartisan bill to revoke Pakistan’s 2004 status as a major non-NATO ally of the United States could also be used to influence American foreign policy in South Asia. However, the transactional nature of the administration means issues like trade liberalization and lowering barriers to accessing the Indian market will not be completely off the table. Thus, it will be interesting to see how Modi’s visit shapes U.S.-India relations and American foreign policy in Asia under the Trump Presidency.
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