07/01/2017, 20.26
INDIA – UNITED STATES
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Modi and Trump cozy up to check China’s expansion

by Luca Galantini

Despite the economic rivalry, Indo-US friendship turns into a military alliance against the Pakistan-China axis and the development of the New Silk Road. Washington will sell weapons to Delhi and allow the manufacturing of F-16 in India.

Milan (AsiaNews) – The first meeting between US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took place at White House amid warm accolades and handshakes.

The image in mass media of a friendly of co-operation between the leaders of the world's most powerful nation and Asia’s largest democracy must not, however, mislead. Although the two countries have many contact points, they are also at loggerheads in many areas, starting with their respective approach to the high-tech sector and visas for Indian IT workers in the Silicon Valley. Other issues are tariff barriers that favour India in bilateral trade relations, and the Paris Accord that the US has said it plans to leave.

However, compared to economic issues, Trump and Modi have shown a definitely stronger affinity in terms of military co-operation as well as defence and foreign policy. Both India and India have a shared goal in Central Asia and the Far East, which is to limit the growing influence of the People's Republic of China. Through its One belt one road (OBOR) strategy of investment, also known as the New Silk Road, Beijing appears poised to seize Asia’s leadership and project its power internationally.

The agreements between the two leaders are aimed at strengthening a political-military partnership that seeks to isolate China and its potential allies in the OBOR strategy, most notably Pakistan. In view of this, both administrations agree on the need to boost India’s military and defence capabilities.

India has several reasons to fear China's expansion. The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) joining the two countries is one of the Silk Road initiatives that stand out. Once completed, it will provide China with direct access to the Arabian Sea through the port of Gwadar, which is also one of Pakistan’s most important naval bases.

India fears that the China-Pakistan link will include permanent posts monitoring Indian naval activity, as part of Beijing's goal of controlling maritime routes and containing Indian influence in the Pacific.

At a time of tense Indo-Pakistani relations, Delhi has already stated its opposition to the Sino-Pakistani transport corridor in Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim and have fought over.

For his part, President Trump reassured India of US support in its fight against Islamist terrorism emanating from Pakistan, a country that is increasingly turned towards China as a privileged partner and that has always had an ambiguous relationship with Islamist terror organisations.

One inked deal involves the sale of 20 US naval surveillance drones at a cost of US$ 2 billion. India is first non-NATO country to get this high-tech aircraft.

The US Administration also plans to allow the manufacturing in India of F-16 fighter planes for the Indian Air Force, whilst the Pentagon has authorised the sale of the giant Boeing C-17 transport aircraft -17 to the South Asian nation.

Before the end of the summer, one of the largest naval exercise exercises in the Indian Ocean will take place with the participation of US, Indian and Japanese ships. Japan is Washington’s main ally in the Far East.

Indian Prime Minister Modi expressly thanked President Trump for the joint commitment to strengthening India’s military and security capabilities, noting that their shared strategic goal is to ensure the balance of power and peace in the Indo-Pacific region.

It should not be surprising then that against the backdrop of military Indo-US co-operation, President Trump during the meeting with Prime Minister Modi had harsh words for Kim Jong-un's North Korean regime, a sign of escalating tensions between the two countries. "The North Korean regime is causing huge problems and that is something that has to be solved,” Trump said.

For many analysts, the statement was actually addressed to China, Pyongyang's only patron. Although Beijing appears to be the unwanted participant in this high stake chess game in Asia, it is clear that it is trying with Russia’s agreement to draft a roadmap for the denuclearisastion of the Korean Peninsula by getting North Korea to act more reasonably and agree to political-diplomatic talks between the two Koreas without preconditions.

As things stand, the North Korean question remains an element of great instability and danger in the Far East, with strong repercussions on US-Indian military co-operation. At the same time, no one should ever forget that China plays a decisive role in the local and global balance of power, which involves more and more global players, from the United States and India to Arab countries.

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