Modi, Trump reaffirm cooperation, see China as common challenge


New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued where he left off with the previous administration on his fifth visit to the US, and the first after Donald Trump’s election as President.

Modi came to Washington with a shopping list for armaments, a request that Trump continue the H-1B visa programme, and seeking common cause with the world’s most powerful democracy in India’s fight against terror.
And while Trump said India must do more to reduce obstacles to US exports, and the joint statement issued by the two was short of specifics on contentious issues such as the H-1B visas, climate change, and market access, there is enough in the statement, analysts say, for both sides to consider the visit a success.

Modi said his policies and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” plan would “add new dimensions to our cooperation.”

Interestingly, both countries identified China as a common challenge in the joint statement.

Modi’s visit was aimed at revitalizing ties that had thrived under former president Barack Obama but have appeared to flag as Trump courted India’s strategic rival China in an effort to persuade Beijing to rein in North Korea.

The statement significantly refers to the “Indo-Pacific region” and calls on “all nations to resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law.”

Surprisingly, the India-US statement mirrors India’s critical comments on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and seeks “support bolstering regional economic connectivity through the transparent development of infrastructure and the use of responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment.”

That the statement begins with the reference to the Indo-Pacific “is indicative of priorities of convergence between the two countries,” said Dhruva Jaishankar, fellow on foreign policy studies at the India chapter of the Washington-based Brookings think tank. It endorses a role for India in the Indo-Pacific region, he added.

As if on cue, a commentary in China’s state-affiliated Global Times on Tuesday warned of “catastrophic results” if India “regresses from its non-alignment stance and becomes a pawn for the US in countering China.”

Pakistan and terrorism follow the reference to the Indo-Pacific in the joint statement.

“The leaders called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. They further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups,” it said.

Harsh Pant, professor of international relations at London’s King’s College, said that “Pakistan had been pushed to the background”. “This comes from India’s growing confidence that it can shape the South Asian narrative in consonance with its interests,” Pant, currently with the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank, said.

On trade and economic issues—seen as particular irritants in the relationship since Trump took office—the statement said the two countries “resolved to pursue increased commercial engagement in a manner that advances the principles of free and fair trade.”

In remarks to reporters after the talks with Modi, Trump said he was pleased about an Indian airline’s (SpiceJet’s) recent order of 100 new American planes and that the US looked forward to exporting more energy to India.

There was no mention of the thorny issue of H-1B visas that the US plans to cut in its bid to keep Trump’s poll promise of controlling immigration and ensuring US jobs for Americans.

But the statement said that in “an increasingly digital world, the leaders agreed to intensify the mutually beneficial partnership to fully harness their innovation capabilities to solve global developmental challenges.”