The inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of the United States has altered many equations in international affairs. With his orthodox and often undiplomatic style, Trump has attempted to shake up the status quo in more ways than one. While it has ruffled the establishment at large and the media, it seems to be resonating with what he had promised and run his campaign upon: to bring back jobs to rural America, to bring "fairness and parity" in US trade deals, to compete harder with China on trade and manufacturing.
Will Trump follow his protectionist policies with India too? How important is India to his narrative?
The anti-China rhetoric is at the core of the Trump agenda and it is interesting to note India's position in this regard. Will Trump follow his protectionist policies with India too? How important is India to his narrative? I argue the merits of a good relationship with India now.
China will play a pivotal role in how Indo-US ties play out in the Trump era. It would be prudent for Trump, given the smart negotiator that he claims to be, to keep his relationship with India as the pivot towards his China strategy. With his antipathy towards China being a natural outcome given his campaign, it would be politically impossible for him to go back on his promises vis-a-vis China.
However, his position on India could be the key differentiator in terms of his world view and also be a good balancing pivot for the US in the Asian region. The bilateral relationship between India and the US could be bolstered and trade enhanced to strengthen his partnership with India as a whole. In addition to this, it would also serve as a counterfoil to China's overtures internationally as well as in the bilateral ties that have been shaping up in the region too. This includes the issues plaguing the South China Sea and their influence over trade deals in Asia.
National security axis
Trump's national security pitch is an important factor in America's relationship with India. It is important to note that any global counter-terrorism operation must deal with the issue of jihadists and extremists in Pakistan. It is estimated according to a Pew report, that most of the 9/11 perpetrators have had connections to Pakistan in some form or the other. In addition, according to this Pew report, just 28% of Pakistanis think ISIS is a negative influence on the world.
Modi had a brilliant equation with Obama, but a large part of it was manufactured. Trump, on the other hand, is a natural fit with Modi's persona.
While the US's relationship with China is expected to be frosty, it is quite obvious that Pakistan will be toeing China's line. In this context, it would be imperative that the US partners with a geographically relevant country in the region such as India, whose stance against Pakistan has been decisive, for enhancing its national security apparatus both in the US and across the world. In the context of India being the second largest Muslim country in the world, it would also serve as a good talking point for the US administration to distinguish between average Muslims and extremists. It would be extremely beneficial if the US can form a nexus between allies such as Israel, India and the EU to form a global partnership to address the issue of terror across the world at large.
Exchange of technology
There is a distinct difference between the Chinese and the Indian models of outsourcing for US operations. The outsourcing that is done to India is largely in the technology sector which is aimed primarily at the high-skilled services industry which most average White working-class voter wouldn't aspire towards anyway. It would be important to ensure that this development of high-skilled technology and knowledge transfer is maintained so that the US retains the best of global talent in areas that do not threaten local job prospects. Also, a digital partnership with India's ambitious government could provide the benchmark for a global technological nexus between the two countries. The digital transformation could be beneficial to both the countries and involve a long-term benefit for the Trump administration.
Beyond the above mentioned reasons, the single-most defining factor in Indo-US relations could be the equation between Modi and Trump. Modi had a brilliant equation with Obama, but a large part of it was manufactured rather than a natural fit. Trump, on the other hand, is a natural fit with Modi's persona. Both of them are very brave, outlandish and ambitious leaders who want to change the world to benefit their respective countries. While Modi is a savvy politician, Trump's candour is an asset for him locally in his constituencies. In this context, a so-called "Bromance" could be the tipping point in the relationship between the two countries. Despite misgivings about him at first, Modi has established a credible presence on the global stage. It would be very prudent for Trump to use the relationship with Modi to not only boost bilateral ties but also build a broader global coalition that could improve his standing in the world at large too.
While the Trump administration has had a rocky start, bolstering a partnership with India could yield domestic and international benefits as detailed above.