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Posted at: Oct 21, 2017, 12:20 AM; last updated: Oct 21, 2017, 12:20 AM (IST)

US ‘love letter’ to India

A reliable partner or a useful adjunct?
US ‘love letter’ to India

India was the flavour of the pre-Diwali season in the US. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on the eve of his Asia visit that includes India, described New Delhi as one of the bookends of the liberal order in Asia Pacific; the other is Japan. India [as opposed to China] operates within a framework that protects other nations’ sovereignty, is a powerful democratic example and has an increasing stature on the world stage. All of this would have sounded credible had US President Donald Trump not opted for China while skipping India on his Asia tour next month. The words of encomium about India being the cornerstone of a liberal order would have had a ring of truth around them if Trump had not struck a $110-billion arms bargain with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The fact of the matter remains that Washington sees India as a more-than-useful ally in its plans to shift the balance of the trade and security relationships with China. Tillerson astutely played on New Delhi’s uncertainties and apprehensions about China’s behaviour in the neighbourhood — which he mentioned 13 times in a speech on the future of US relations with India. However, with a severely dented perception about its reliability in South East Asia, the US also needs a new partner with a common grouse against China. And India fits the bill perfectly for it has issues with China’s method of shaping the trade infrastructure in the region as well as it considers its military moves as expansionist.

The US needs to internalise that India’s trade surplus and visas to software engineers are a free market dynamic rather than a fiendish plan to subvert America; New Delhi will want greater autonomy in its foreign relations, especially with Iran and Russia. After a barren decade, this is a tailor-made opportunity for India to enter into new areas of engagement with the US and to deepen its existing cooperation. But to avoid becoming a dumping ground for the US military-industrial complex, India needs a broader negotiating platform to accommodate its non-security interests. 

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