By M D Nalapat
In the case of US, India needs to be forthcoming on security matters, while being tough on commercial issues. In the case of China, India needs to be firm on matters concerning security, while ensuring leeway in purely commercial fields.
The clay mountains of Shaanxi province are a universe away from New Delhi, where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting, 25-27 June. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) is expected to figure high on Pompeo’s agenda in a context where there is disappointment in Washington about India not matching its tough words on terror with action on the ground in most theatres where terror groups that are clones of ISIS are active. Apart from not signing BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) as yet, India is still considering the purchase of S-400 systems from Russia, a purchase that would doom future hi-tech cooperation between the US and India in the joint development of weapons platforms. Such US-India cooperation is especially welcome in the context of the fullscope manner in which China is developing Pakistan as a manufacturing hub for military aircraft, missiles and nuclear technology, while still blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. For this to happen, the S-400 bullet needs to be bitten and fast by India. After that, field cooperation could begin in Afghanistan and other theatres where terror groups are active. A robust security relationship with the US will assist in recruiting the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department as allies against the US Trade Representative and the US Department of Commerce, both of whom wear outsize blinkers as they seek to implement measures that would destroy much of the small retail trade in India to the benefit of US tech giants. The USTR seems to feel little compunction in pressing for concessions on pharma and health pricing that would benefit a handful of US and European billionaires at the cost of tens of thousands of lives in India’s zone of poverty. In the case of the US, collaboration on matters of defence and security is desirable, while conceding to US demands on commercial matters is not. In the case of China, the situation is different. However, the fact that India will be the first country that President Xi Jinping visits after the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China is significant. Those close to him say that Xi, who enjoys a good rapport with Narendra Modi, is seeking a return to the early 1950s period of a close rapport between China and India. Of course, during that period, it was India that gave almost all the concessions. This time around, as much the bigger power, it is China’s turn to be generous to a country that can emerge as its biggest market in Eurasia in the years ahead. The importance that China under Xi is giving to Modi can be gauged from the fact that the traditional heart of China, Xian, has been visited by such notables as Presidents Bush and Obama, yet the only pictures on the City Wall are those of Xi and Modi. In Wuhan as well, the Lake Guest House has pictures of the Prime Minister all over the surroundings and inside the Guest House.
Chinese authorities will be watching closely the signals emanating from Delhi on the Pompeo visit. They are now certain that the Trump administration is determined to roll back Chinese influence through downsizing economic growth. In such a context, the Indian market is a tempting prize. However, for the potential for India-China economic and commercial relations to be fully realised, Beijing will need to give more attention towards India’s core concerns than has been the case thus far.