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Time to discuss mutual interests (Column: Political Calculus)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came in advance for the final round of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face-to-face meeting with American President Donald Trump. Trump sent him to fix the schedule of the two top leaders’ meeting. It was just before June 28 that a bilateral meeting would be held in the G-20 summit in Japan. But with Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, Pompeo also held an advance meeting basically for themselves. Trump praised Modi with a tweet as soon as his second innings started, but his main goal was to ensure that India withdrew tax on US items – India has taxed medicine, cars, toys, and this tax had to be reduced.
US goods and services trade with India was estimated at $142.1 billion (2018). But the volume of this trade has now reduced. There is now a US trade deficit with India. There are complaints that India has increased tariffs in 29 of the US products that are coming into India.
Trump has opposed the buying of the S-800 TRIUMF missile system of India from Russia. From 2020, this missile will be available in India. According to the American consumers legislation, the US authorities are opposing this defence agreement. According to US law, the country will ban those who enter into a defence agreement with Russia. Again, the angry US authorities made it more difficult for Indians to get an opportunity to get H-1 visas. The cost of US visas has increased. As a result, Indian students and information technology workers are in trouble.
There is also trouble on the Iran issue. In August 2012, the Trump administration issued fresh financial sanctions on Iran. US officials wanted India to freeze diplomatic ties with Iran, but New Delhi did not care about American threats. India did not change Modi’s policy on Iran. Understanding the situation in India, US officials have also given a concession to Iran on this issue till May this year. Now see what they do. In ‘self-interest’, there has been a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Peace negotiations with the Taliban for India is not very happy news.
Support within the country is giving Modi the strength to fight a world leader like Trump. He is able to bargain. If a government is not backed by a majority in Parliament, if it is weak, or a patchwork coalition government, the government would be weak internationally.
However, the foreign policy of Trump is also difficult to understand – trade war with China; Russian sanctions; a shaky deal with North Korea; a fight with a neighbour like Canada and problems with Mexico. After the end of the Cold War, US relations with India have been consistently good. In 2008, George W. Bush and then Barack Obama finalised the nuclear deal with India. Then, the relationship between the two countries became stronger. After Trump became President, there were dark clouds over the bilateral relationship. But Trump is an amazing character. He often conflicts with a lot of small issues without emphasizing the large context of relations between two countries.
Here, Modi has to show diplomatic expertise. So far, both Modi and Jaishankar have been successful on this front. Modi knows that India cannot have enmity with the US. However, submission in the name of friendship cannot be called successful diplomacy either. So both sides are seeking good relations, and Modi and Trump are fighting nervous wars in diplomatic negotiations.
Meanwhile, another US presidential election is coming up. What if Trump is elected President once again? Ahead of the 2020 election, he is now becoming more conservative and more aggressive. The primary reading of foreign policy is that every sovereign state has some expectations which is called desire and real evaluation of how much is possible in the expectation is called effective desire or effective expectation. Now India should not expect that all claims of Modi will be accepted by Trump. Or India will accept all expectations of Trump. There is always a difference between these basic needs and effective demands. There is a conflict between the demands of the two sovereign states. The path of getting through these conflicts is wide.
All the countries are plagued by various problems today. The British ruled India once, but imagine what is happening in London today. In this situation, almost all sovereign states are becoming more protectionist. There is increasing nationalist Swadeshi conservatism but this mentality will increase conflict. So now let’s discuss mutual interests. Let’s go through a unified understanding.
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])