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Home / Analysis / India did not achieve much from the Trump visit| Opinion

India did not achieve much from the Trump visit| Opinion

The trip was meant for his domestic Indian diaspora. None of India’s national concerns have been addressed by him

analysis Updated: Feb 27, 2020 21:06 IST
Kapil Sibal
Kapil Sibal
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to US President Donald Trump, New Delhi, February 25, 2020
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to US President Donald Trump, New Delhi, February 25, 2020(REUTERS)

The visit of the United States (US) President Donald Trump will be remembered for its extravaganza apart from the ostensible chemistry between the two leaders. The visit also resulted in upgrading the India-US partnership to the level of a “Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership”. The $3-billion defence deal saw India purchase Apache and MH-60R helicopters: A deal to benefit the US military establishment, and upgrading our security environment.

Bilateral relationships bloom only when both sides understand and sympathise with each other’s concerns. Let us list some of India’s concerns that were left unaddressed by the US: First, we were hoping for a “big and comprehensive” trade deal, a win-win for both sides. That was not in the offing. Closing such a deal by the end of the year seems highly unlikely. Second, there was no forward movement in the outstanding H1B visa issue and a totalisation agreement. Third, Trump no longer regards India as a developing country. This provides him the rationale for removing India from the list of countries benefited by the “Generalized System of Preferences (GSP),” which allows for lower tariff for India’s products exported to the US. Trump was not persuaded to revisit that issue.

Trump continues to repeat that India was the “highest tariff country” in the world, and that the US has to be treated fairly. The US wishlist includes lowering our tariffs and allowing for market access to US milk, dairy and meat products, a demand India has resisted so far. But our inability to source crude oil from Iran because of US sanctions has burdened us with increased costs for importing crude from the US. The president also hoped for larger investments of Indian businesses in the US and increased oil and gas supplies to bridge the gaping trade deficit.

In fact, none of our national concerns have been addressed by the US. The president’s hurricane visit was meant for his domestic Indian diaspora constituency to garner support from a community that has in the past tilted towards the Democrats. To say that the visit was extraordinary and that Modi is a “nice man who is doing a fantastic job” means little when looked at from the prism of our national interest.

From the perspective of India’s standing in this part of the world and Trump’s endorsement of New Delhi’s position, again the outcome was less than desirable. On Pakistan, Trump reiterated his willingness to mediate on Kashmir, chose not to criticise Pakistan, claiming Prime Minister Imran Khan is his good friend. On the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India, Trump said that the US could not be counted upon to take any action across 8,000 miles. Clearly, the US is not willing to take sides and India is left on its own to deal with Pakistan in the manner that it chooses. While we believe that we have the capacity to punish Pakistan for any misadventure in India, Trump’s statement is hardly any reflection of the warmth of the relationship between the two countries.

In fact, in all the actions of the US running up to the visit of the president and during his stay, one got the feeling that for him “America first” is a national commitment and friendship with India is conditional upon that. Given the fact that there is likelihood of an agreement between the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan, there was no clarity about India’s role. Given such a deal, India’s position is likely to become even more vulnerable.

Trump gave a veiled warning with reference to the importance of a secure 5G wireless network. He called this network a technology tool “for freedom, progress, prosperity… where it could be even conceived as a conduit for suppression and censorship”. We are aware that the US neither allowed ZTE nor Huwaei to participate in its 5G wireless network. Trump’s statement sought to guide our policy prescriptions by hinting at a possible threat to India’s security if the 5G network were to be laid by Huwaei or ZTE.

President Trump knows where his country’s national interest lies. He wants US troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible to make it a talking point in the upcoming presidential election. He has made no commitments on behalf of his administration in combating the increasing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. He is also aware that India is not a vassal State, which will willingly subjugate its national interest by allowing large-scale US naval presence in this part of the world. Trump wants the trade deficit to be reduced, Indian tariffs to be lowered and US goods, especially agricultural produce, to be accessible to Indian markets.

On top of that, Trump will bat for expanding online networks of multinationals with deep American commercial interests. E-commerce is a new tool to capture one of the largest markets in the world. Has Trump moved even an inch in sympathising with India’s national concerns? The chemistry between the two leaders is the government’s single achievement.

Kapil Sibal is former Union Cabinet minister
The views expressed are personal