There’s lot of frenzied hype whipped up around the meeting between prime minister Narendra Modi and the US president Donald Trump in Manila in the Philippines on Monday. Foreign secretary Subramaniam Jayshankar and White House statements after the Modi-Trump meeting have taken the atmospherics to a new level.
While both leaders thrived in the bonhomie shown to each other, they should also not loose focus on reality: Hyping up of such meetings should not be resorted to if preserving peace and tranquility in the region is the objective.
India moving up the ladder along with the US military establishment from a strategic perspective was a big positive for both sides. While the US would like to piggyback on India to pursue its interests in Asia, for New Delhi, a free, open and inclusive Indo Pacific region is a top priority.
Should we read too much into president Trump’s assertion of two greatest democracies must have two greatest militaries? Is there also a deeper meaning into promoting the Indo Pacific region concept time and again by Washington at the highest level? Lately, it has been noticed that the US wants to use India as its pivot both for Afghanistan and China. The fact that it has exerted sustained pressure on India resume a political dialogue in Kashmir is equally significant that right wing India is willing to accept Trump administration’s new pitch which appears to be going beyond optics.
Well, the foreign beat hawks attribute huge importance to both these lines spoken out by president Trump utilising the various interactions on the sidelines of ASEAN summit in the Philippines.
Having two great militaries is seen as having deeper and wider strategic and defence cooperation between India and the US. At an operational level, the US military establishment may not be hesitant in transferring latest military technology and cutting edge know-how to India that was hitherto unavailable in the past.
Especially after the Pokharan nuclear tests conducted by Indian establishment under the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the US military establishment had been very suspicious of the country’s ambitions and aspirations. However, strategic shift vis-à-vis India has been seen during last 10 years under both Democratic and Republican regimes of presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump.
If Trump administration’s assertions are any indication, India seems to have metamorphosed into a full global partner with the US not only for Asia but much beyond. It is clear that the US feels threatened by rising Chinese military and economic power. It would want a strong ally and India fits the bill for it shares a huge undefined border with the Chinese, the face off in Doklam being the latest case in point.
Peddling the concept of Indo Pacific partnership that includes the Philippines and Japan designated, as quad is again a significant gain from Indian perspective. The the US concerns emanating from the South China Sea prism lead to the design of this quad. China’s muscular policy obviously distressing the US, Japan and even Australia.
From India’s point of view, getting F-16s, F-18 advanced fighter aircraft or single engine fighter aircraft in droves should not be a big deal. Instead, India should press for the US military and aerospace industry manufacturing these aircraft here, transferring technology to domestic industry and aid development of ancillary units for spares and maintenance. Only then, India’s military capabilities will go up vis-à-vis long time foe, Pakistan and its trusted big brother ally, China.
Secondly, India cannot put all its eggs in one basket and push China further away to tango with Pakistan that could be a permanent irritant on the western borders. Foreign policy mandarins will have to balance out India’s security interests wedded strongly to the US military establishment with continued partnership with China on trade and investment.
This balancing act is the trickiest aspect of India’s engagement with the US, Japan and the Philippines troika on one side and China on other end of the spectrum.
In this backdrop, growing energy partnership between India and the US could be an eyesore for China. Given that over half a million barrels crude was being sourced from the US, half way across the globe, Chinese communist oligarchs are bound to view this as a very unfriendly act. Beijing in-house Communist experts may not believe in India–the US energy deals as an insurance to growing instability in West Asia and far eastern oil rich region.
China under Xi Jinping would continue to be weary and suspicious of India cozying up to the US. Fitting Russia into this whole puzzle of India- US- China seesaw relationship would however be the biggest challenge for New Delhi. For Russia remains India’s greatest natural ally.