New Delhi: US President Donald Trump’s visit to India next week is set to herald a new chapter in the strategic collaboration between the two countries within the Indo-Pacific framework, notwithstanding the hurdles in bilateral trade talks and protestations from nations like Russia and Iran, ThePrint has learnt.
During the visit, apart from a joint statement, both sides might could a joint declaration to lay down a roadmap for larger cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, which will act as a ‘vision document’, said sources.
The move is likely amid the US’s keenness that India plays a key role in its initiative for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, with a view of New Delhi as a counter to a rising and increasingly assertive China.
India has also chosen to align its interests with that of the US, rolling out its own plan in the Indian Ocean region and the Indo-Pacific. New Delhi’s move has come despite open criticism from countries such as Russia, who call the strategy a “divisive design” of the US, and have urged India to rethink being a party to it.
The strategic bonding between Washington and New Delhi has continued to firm up over the last few years — with India enjoying the status of being a ‘Major Defense Partner’ of the US since July 2018 — despite a lack of convergence in the trade talks.
Defence trade between the US and India has reached $18 billion. During Trump’s upcoming visit, the countries are expected to sign a $2.6-billion deal to procure 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ Seahawk helicopters, and a pact to buy additional Apache attack helicopters.
According to Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla, India’s relationship with the US has evolved to be one of its “most consequential relationships today”.
“It is a strategic partnership based on shared values and geared towards the 21st century. Whether in countering terrorism or in ensuring a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific, India and the US have unprecedented convergence of interests,” Shringla told reporters ahead of the visit.
He added that increased weaponry purchases from the US have “enhanced” India’s defence preparedness “significantly”.
According to the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report released in June last year, both the US and India share a common vision of the Indo-Pacific, and “recognize the importance of the Indo-Pacific to global trade and commerce and acknowledge that developments in this region will shape the larger trajectory of the rules-based international order”.
India and the Indo-Pacific
Arun Kumar Singh, former Indian Ambassador to the US, said the Indo-Pacific provides today a framework for strategic convergence between US and India.
“During President Trump’s visit, it is inevitable that China and the Indo-Pacific will come up in discussions. US today sees China as a peer competitor in technology, and finds its trade and intellectual property policies contrary to global trading norms, and its advocacy of authoritarian governance a challenge to Western norms,” said Singh.
He added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made it clear in his 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue address that India sees Indo-Pacific as an “inclusive concept”.
“No one is talking of containment. It does not make sense given the deep economic and connectivity interlinkages today. However, many in the US articulate the need to shape the environment around the rise of China so that countries in the region have options other than or in addition to China,” Singh added.
Sources said India has no option now but to be a party to the Indo-Pacific initiative as the US considers it part of a larger package deal under which the two countries will operate.
D.K. Sharma, defence expert and former Indian Navy spokesperson, said, “While countries like Russia are now talking against the concept, one cannot wish away the fact that China is asserting its presence in the South China Sea that has caused considerable concern for countries like India that wants to build infrastructure in the Indian Ocean region and in the larger Indo-Pacific.”
At this year’s Raisina Dialogue, US Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger had announced an expansion of the Indo-Pacific to also include the eastern coast of the African continent.