India’s foreign policy establishment is cautiously optimistic after Donald Trump took over as the US President and delivered an inaugural speech which cryptically summarised his core campaign issues.
Indian officials admit they are—like their counterparts in almost all the capitals around the world-- -yet to figure out what direction the policies of the new President will take.
But they said “the strong foundations and bipartisan support of the relationship” will sail through the possible policy realignments the new regime in Washington might usher in.
In other words, like other countries, India is also girding up for a “bigly” world order – to use Donald Trump’s trademark adjective for huge.
The overriding view of Trump is uncertainty: he has said little of substance on foreign policy. What he said in his inaugural address that reeks of protectionism and outsourcing is no great news for India.
As he sounded isolationist, experts say US under Trump will no longer get embroiled in geopolitical hotspots around the world in a big way.
“The rejuvenation of US economy was a key theme in his speech. That meant he needs to mobilize resources from around the world, so he would be keeping good ties with China in economic ties even as he would rework terms of engagement with Beijing”, said M K Bhadrakumar, former diplomat and commentator.
For New Delhi one worry is US withdrawing from global affairs considerably - there was no mention of Asia, China or even Europe in his speech - could make China more aggressive on issues of territorial disputes such as the South China Sea.
The US President has generally spoken positively about India. But he has also consistently denounced job outsourcing to India, even making fun of the accents of Indian call centre workers.
If there was one leitmotif of Trump’s campaign, it was his constant barrage against immigrants. It has been pointed out Trump wants a freeze on new green cards and a restructuring of the H-1B visa programme to make it harder for US firms to hire skilled workers from abroad. Indians are the primary recipients of H-1B visa.
“The free movement of people is something which is taken for granted in the free world of free trade. So let’s see how it goes”, said an Indian official as New Delhi plans to engage more for with the Trump administration. Foreign secretary S Jaishankar had extensively interacted with the transition team.
Nirupama Rao, a former Indian envoy to Washington, said, “India should not waste time in reaching out to Trump and his team in order to establish a durable understanding that will take the relationship forwards in all sectors of relevance.”
But India will be relieved if Trump’s admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin softens US diplomacy. Indian officials often complain that the West’s economic sanctions drove Russia into the arms of China.
Strategic affairs experts like Brahma Chellany believe that Trump will be more firm on Pakistan. But some other experts see this wouldn’t actually happen in a manner, India would like it to.
Another area of concern is climate change, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees as an almost existential threat to India. Trump denies such a problem even exists.
India developed a large number of collaborations with the US in climate change, especially in clean energy.
Modi’s idea is to use these platforms to channel US private investment and technology to help India reach its ambitious climate targets, says Arunabha Ghosh, head of the Council for Environment, Energy and Water.