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Modi’s Asian diplomacy and his upcoming US visit

August 18, 2014

The Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi is scheduled to make an official visit to the United States of America sometime at the end of September this year. President Barack Obama had invited Mr. Modi to visit the US soon after the Indian Prime Minister took the oath of office. Since then the two sides have been working on the modalities of the visit as can be expected.

On his part, the Indian Prime Minister has started his diplomatic initiative by visiting India’s immediate neighbours. He visited Bhutan in mid July and laid the foundation stone of Bhutan’s Supreme Court which will be built by Indian assistance. He also laid the foundation stone of a 600 mega watt hydro-electric power station which will feed demand in Bhutan and in India.

Bhutan is a close ally of India and perhaps the only one. The 1948 treaty of friendship and cooperation is the bedrock of India-Bhutan ties. The treaty gives India the responsibility of ensuring security of the tiny Himalayan nation and to decide on its foreign affairs. Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy in 2008 and the King is still revered by the people of Bhutan. There is high unemployment and a growing national debt. Mr. Modi met both the King of Bhutan Jigme Kesar Wangchuk and the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. There is a growing Chinese influence in Bhutan and China wants to have an embassy in Thimphu to begin formal diplomatic exchanges with this vital nation. India is not comfortable with the idea. Modi’s visit to Bhutan is being seen in India as his attempt at securing India’s neighbourhood. Generally the Bhutanese people do not clap as clapping is seen as a gesture to ward off evil spirits but when the Indian prime minister addressed Bhutanese parliament the Bhutanese legislators clapped repeatedly. Mr. Modi’s message of friendship and brotherhood went down well with the people of Bhutan. That he wants India secure by reaching out to immediate neighbours became clear when he made Kathmandu his next stop.

Narendra Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Nepal in17 years. Nepal has been struggling with Maoist insurgency for long. His speech to the joint session of Nepalese parliament went down well with the legislators and he received a standing ovation. The man is a good orator especially when he speaks in Hindi. He announced a $1 billion line of credit which will be in addition to the other existing lines of credits. China has overtaken India as the largest trading partner of Nepal. Modi by this largesse perhaps tried to rectify the anomaly. He emphasized India’s resolve to help Nepal with what he called HIT formula. He explained that HIT was Highways, IT and Transmission. India plans to build roads, give internet connectivity throughout Nepal and ensure that there is power in every Nepalese household. The power trade agreement could not be finalized and that was a letdown for the high powered Indian delegation. He proposed a rail link from India to Kathmandu and a bridge over the river Mahakali which will ease connectivity between the two countries. He met Nepalese PM Sushil Koirala and President Ram Baran Yadav. It could be said that Modi’s Bhutan and Nepal visits were also an attempt at get acquainted with the norms of international diplomacy and testing the waters.

On Jluy 31st 2014 the American Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry arrived in New Delhi to meet his Indian counterpart Mrs Sushma Swaraj. He was accompanied by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and other officials. India has decided not to ratify the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Ostensibly Mr. Kerry came to reason with the Indians on TFA but apparently it did not quite work out. The other purpose of his visit was the Indo-US strategic dialogue. Indian leadership is hesitant in calling the US a strategic partner. The irony is that at the ground level India and the US are cooperating very closely strategically whether it is in the Indian Ocean or in Afghanistan or for that matter in trade and commerce. His remark in Hindi- Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (Together everyone grows), which is a slogan given my Mr. Modi went down particularly well here in India.
The US and NATO need India in Afghanistan as they begin to withdraw by the end of this year. All this came up in the Indo-US strategic dialogue and John Kerry was effusive in the close ties between the two nations. Curiously, at some point in time the US Secretary of State remarked that India did not need to choose between the US and China. Although the Indian media chose to more or less ignore this statement those in the know could see where this was coming from.

Later, Mr. John Kerry met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Clearly the Secretary of State and his delegation were working on the modalities of the upcoming visit of the Indian prime minister to the United States.
It is not only the Indian and US sides that are working on the upcoming visit of the Indian prime minister to the US. Mr. Modi himself is keen to see some tangible results from his American trip. Before he flies to Washington DC he will make a trip to Japan – an old Indian friend and partner. Japan is the fourth largest trading partner of India and Japanese investments are increasing with every passing year. However, it is the civilian nuclear deal that is uppermost in the mind of Mr. Modi. After the Fukushima disaster the civilian nuclear deal was put on the back burner. The Indian prime minister is very keen to ink this deal as this will be vital for Indo-US civilian nuclear deal to move forward. Most American companies in the field of nuclear energy have Japanese partners. The US is losing out on crucial business in India because India and Japan have not signed the civilian nuclear deal. If the nuclear deal between Japan and India is signed during Mr. Modi’s upcoming visit to Tokyo, India and the US could then go ahead with multi-billion dollar business between the two countries in the field of civilian nuclear energy. Russia and France have won orders worth millions of dollars while the US has been left out. The success of Mr. Modi’s visit to Japan will be crucial to the outcome of his visit to Washington later in September.

It can be safely assumed that President Obama and PM Modi should have extended talks when they meet. There are a host of issues that will come up as both are meticulous in what they do and both are leaders of the masses. It will be interesting to see how the visit by the Indian PM pans out. There are going to be defence deals, talks on regional security, trade and commerce and India’s role in the region, not to mention the two nation’s resolve to fight terrorism. It is going to be a comprehensive dialogue between the two leaders. Two outstanding orators reaching out to their audience at home and abroad should be interesting. Mr. Modi is from the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party and does not carry the Socialist baggage. He is also seen as a doer and a decisive administrator. He is being wooed by other western nations too – especially France and Germany. Will he come up to the expectations of the West? The man understands the need for India to attract foreign investments, especially in the manufacturing sector as he emphasized in his speech on India’s Independence Day. Increasing poverty and joblessness in India can be countered only by more investments from within India and abroad he made clear in his speech. Will Mr. Modi’s visit to the US be a watershed of sorts and a turning point in the growing Indo-US ties? His US visit will be keenly watched around the globe.

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