Warm in Washington: Modi in U.S.

PM Modi and President Trump exceed the muted expectations for their first meeting

June 28, 2017 12:02 am | Updated December 03, 2021 04:53 pm IST

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first meeting with President Donald Trump , concern had grown about the future course of the bilateral relationship, particularly whether Mr. Trump would maintain his predecessors’ commitment to its strengthening. These worries rested on Mr. Trump’s rewriting the equation with Europe, reversing the American stand on China and in West Asia. They were also fuelled by his harsh words on trade tariffs, immigrants and climate change, an issue on which he specifically targeted India. Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump have put many fears to rest, their meeting marked by personal bonhomie. This was reflected in Mr. Modi’s attempt to engage Mr. Trump’s family, perceived to be an important power centre in the White House. He invited his daughter Ivanka Trump to an entrepreneurship summit in India. Her husband Jared Kushner was a part of the delegation-level talks. Importantly, the India-U.S. joint statement has exceeded expectations, with an emphasis on the need for Pakistan to stop attacks on India launched from its soil, and for China to forge its Belt and Road Initiative taking into account India’s concerns on territorial and sovereignty issues. Equally important has been the continuity in the India-U.S. strategic partnership goals, albeit with a softening of the tone on China’s actions in the South China Sea. Mentioning North Korea, West Asia and Afghanistan, the statement talks of a “growing strategic convergence” between the two countries and a shared vision on world affairs. That neither side brought up the phrase “shared values” or took questions from the media may be seen as a departure from past meetings, but it is not a divergence from the views and preferences of both leaders. It may even indicate further convergence between them.

 

However, while the two leaders were able to establish a common understanding of global issues, the joint statement indicates that many bilateral issues are yet to be resolved. The insertion of an entire section titled “Increasing Free and Fair Trade” is a veiled attempt at putting the Trump administration’s concerns on bilateral trade on the front burner — for example, with references to “balancing the trade deficit”, “protecting innovation”, and “increasing market access” in areas where American industry has been most critical of Indian policy. While these bilateral issues were articulated, others were not brought up, including India’s concerns on the immigration process and H1B visa curbs, and Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, which will leave India’s climate change financing handicapped. It is to be hoped that these will be raised in the near future. All things considered, a good beginning appears to have been made during Mr. Modi’s maiden meeting with Mr. Trump. It is now for them to tackle the more substantive bilateral issues.

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