Special to WorldTribune.com
By John J. Metzler, June 30, 2023
The State Visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington illustrated both style and substance of the evolving relationship between the world’s two largest democracies.
President Joe Biden described the India/American relationship as, “A partnership that is among the most consequential in the world, that is stronger, closer, and more dynamic than any time in history.”
The visit had the trappings of a former India advertising campaign in the USA called “Incredible India” which offered a classy, glossy and inviting view of this emerging South Asian country.
Speaking before a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C., Prime Minister Modi stated, “When I first visited the U.S. as Prime Minister, India was the tenth largest economy in the world. Today, India is the fifth largest economy. And India will be the third largest economy soon. We are not only growing bigger, but we are also growing faster.”
The United States is India’s major trading partner; in 2022 two-way trade reached $133 billion.
Now let’s add some context. India/USA relations have been dramatically improving since the early 1990’s. Why?
When the former Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, India lost a powerful political ally and military partner. Moreover its “nonalignment” stance had isolated India.
First, starting with the Clinton Administration, both the U.S. and India realized they have much in common economically and politically, despite India’s repeated mantra of nonalignment.
Secondly, following the terrorist attacks on America in 2001, both India and U.S. President George W. Bush initiated a shared security commitment not only in opposing Islamic jihadi terrorism which India has long suffered from and confronted especially from neighboring Pakistan, but also in coping with China which for India posed persistent threats along its 3,500-km border.
Thirdly, communist China has driven the change and a clear and less nuanced rapprochement between New Delhi and Washington. “The credit for moving India and the U.S. closer than ever before goes to the assertive policies of Xi Jinping. This is ironic,” writes analyst C. Raja Mohan, a Senior Fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Mumbai’s Indian Express newspaper.
American relations with India are often framed by what Washington assumes; Namely that the U.S. and democratic India are natural friends and economic partners and thus ipso facto just a step short of being military allies. This presumption remains questionable as India defends its historic neutrality.
India’s once socialist and statist economy has become more enterprise-driven and thus open to free trade and increasingly close ties to the USA and Europe. Over the past nine years of Narendra Modi’s enterprise-oriented government, India’s economy has flourished as a global player. Gone are the days of the economically torpid “Hindu Rate of Growth.”
Technology is one of the catalysts of dynamic Indian/American commerce and investment.
Misperceptions abound in the relationship; Nonetheless India shares U.S. concerns over China and thus has joined the security Quad to counter and offset Beijing’s growing military power.
As Modi told Congress, in an obvious allusion to China, “The dark clouds of coercion and confrontation are casting their shadow in the Indo-Pacific. The stability of the region has become one of the central concerns of our partnership.” He added, “We share a vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, connected by secure seas, defined by international law, free from domination, and anchored in ASEAN centrality.”
“Of this, Quad has emerged as a major force of good for the region.” he asserted. The Quad comprises Australia, India, Japan, and the USA as a “security dialogue” not a formal treaty for the Indo-Pacific.
India’s political enigma has oft confounded Washington; While New Delhi has moved politically and strategically closer in the last two decades, there’s equally the reality that India remains a major purchaser of Russian weapons and consumer of Russian petroleum. Diplomatically, New Delhi has abstained in key UN Assembly votes on Ukraine.
Here are some of the fruits of the visit:
Technology: Air India agrees with Boeing to acquire more than 200 American-made aircraft, supporting one million American jobs. Deals for semiconductors, space technology and quantum computing were also signed.
Student Exchanges: Last year the United States issued a record 125,000 visas to Indian students. Indian students are soon expected to become the largest foreign student community in the United States.
Diplomacy: The United States reiterates its support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UN Security Council.
Will this new India/U.S. partnership bring renewed political stability to the Indo-Pacific region?
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]