Narendra Modi’s US visit: All eyes on India’s crucial trip to pacify Donald Trump, play role of middle power
Narendra Modi wrapped up his four-nation tour with the commitment to go beyond the Paris Agreement on climate change. The swing through Germany, Spain, Russia and France has given the prime minister the kind of coverage in the world press that such bilateral visits seldom gets. It has been one of his most successful visits to Europe, one which seems to have not only repaired ties with old ally Russia but also taken ahead India’s relationship with the other three European powers. A multi-polar world seems to be emerging, and in this, India can play an important role. It would be interesting to see how Modi’s visit to the US, which is scheduled to take place at the end of the month will pan out. Modi will meet US president Donald Trump for the first time during this meeting.
Much of this has to do with the uncertainty that Trump has brought to the world stage. China has been a major player in the international arena for some time, but with the US turning inwards — protectionist and isolationist — India is in a position to play a rightful role as a middle power. Ever since Trump decided to walk out of the Paris Agreement, which the world community had agreed on, climate change has been at the heart of the global debate. And Modi’s assurance has been music to Europe. “The Paris climate agreement is a shared legacy of the world. It will benefit the future generations as well,” Modi said addressing a joint news conference with French president Emmanuel Macron. “We have natural resources because our previous generations protected those resources. We must do the same for our future generations,” Modi said. The India-led solar alliance is gaining traction and the brand new French president will travel to India by the end of the year to endorse it. European leaders and Canada’s Justin Trudeau are moving closer.
India, which under Narendra Modi had appeared to be moving at a breathless speed to the US camp, is now going to recalibrate his move to make sure its options are not limited. There was much hope in India when the Hindu Republican Coalition with links to the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar staunchly supported Trump during the elections, even making him mouth Modi’s slogan at an event where the US president had made a brief appearance as a presidential candidate. Pujas were held in India too to pray for a Trump victory.
Trump’s diatribe against China, as a candidate also gave the impression that like George W Bush and his Republican administration, Washington would use India to balance China’s rise, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Before the elections, Trump accused Beijing of currency manipulation, called climate change a myth propagated by the Chinese and gave all indications that the US would break away from Barack Obama’s policy towards China.
Yet, after a meeting with President Xi Jinping, Trump changed his views. Trump’s grandchildren even sang Chinese songs for the visiting Chinese president and his wife. The US president has been praising China for its support to contain the North Korea. The signs are that the US-China relations, initiated by former US president Richard Nixon and pursued by all succeeding American presidents, now appears to be followed by Trump.
Apart from the changed stance on China, Trump has not made it easy for India. Besides the H1B visa issues for India’s IT sector, Trump’s contention that India and China were demanding billions of dollars for implementing the climate deal has nothing to do with facts. It has to do with the US president’s support base and the alternative reality he prefers. The truth is that the industrialised world, especially the US, has contributed to climate change by being the principle pollutants. Emerging economies like India and China are only now becoming pollutants. So, the major part of the blame has to rightfully go to the US and other developed nations. But Trump loves to twist facts to suit himself. Even today, the US remains the number two polluter in the world. China is first and India third. Yet China and India are trying to clean up their acts. China, of course, is far ahead as it has much more resources at its command. But India too is trying to do its best.
A peeved Europe is now turning to both India and China. Both countries are embracing the invitation from the EU with open arms. India will be working with Germany, France, Spain and others in the EU for clean technology. But it will be difficult for the world to find a replacement for the US with its vast resource. Though tempers are frayed at both sides of the Atlantic, for now, this cannot be permanent. The gap between the US and the EU will have to be bridged at some time, the earlier the better for the world. The US after all, despite its relative decline, still remains the leader of the free world. It cannot be ignored because it is well ahead in terms of technology, defence, space and every other field.
Modi is well aware of this. So, much will depend on how Modi’s American visit shapes up. But New Delhi is making sure that in these uncertain times, the best policy is to have as many friends as possible so that India’s interests do not suffer. For now, a country like India, with its young population and ready markets as well as a commitment to free trade, the environment and democracy is making a mark in Europe. Modi’s visit could not have been at a better time.