Trump Visit to India – Hype or Diplomacy?

By Sri Krishna

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New Delhi. When US President Donald Trump accompanied by wife Melanie Trump steps down on Indian soil on February 24 starting a two-day visit to two cities, he will be the fourth consecutive US president to visit India since President Bill Clinton’s trip in 2000, his successor George HW Bush visited in 2006 and Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama came twice in 2010 and 2015.

Would this “Kemcho Trump” visit a follow up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Howdy” in September last year to Houston boost Indo-US ties or the American leader is looking for ways to resolve the Afghan tangle with an eye on Presidential elections next year are the questions posed.

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As some analysts feel that the time span of the visit is too short to resolve the contentious trade issues between the two countries and the focus could well be on boosting strategic ties.

With China being one of the major protagonists of US, the American leader may want to strengthen relations and also with an eye on Afghanistan where the Taliban appears to be gaining ground as US prepares for troop withdrawal.

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“Trump’s decision shows continuity in US policy and that he himself attaches importance” to ties with India, said former Indian ambassador to the US Arun K Singh.

The invitation for Trump was extended by Prime Minister Modi during his trip to the White House in June 2017. New Delhi had later renewed the invitation to visit India as the chief guest of the Republic Day event last year which did not take place. The invitation was reiterated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar when they called on Trump at the White House after the 2+2 ministerial dialogue in December.

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The White House announcement follows Trump winning an impeachment acquittal in the US Senate.

Modi had addressed Indian community at Madison Square Garden and San Jose in the US, Shanghai, Sydney, Seychelles, Myanmar, Toronto, Dublin, South Korea, Wembley Stadium in London, Singapore, Dubai, Berlin and Paris.

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“The President and The US First Lady will travel to New Delhi and Ahmedabad, which is in Prime Minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat and played such an important role in Mahatma Gandhi’s life and leadership of the Indian Independence movement,” a statement said.

During a phone call over the weekend, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi agreed the trip will further strengthen the United States-India strategic partnership and highlight the strong and enduring bonds between the American and Indian people,” a statement by External Affairs Ministry said.

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Trump’s visit has raised hopes that both countries will work out a limited trade deal to India’s trade surplus with the US. Once at $30 billion, the surplus in India’s favour has now narrowed to $16 billion, say officials.

However, one issue has raised eyebrows and that is over the “very high price” of the American missile shield India wants to use to protect the national capital against the threat of 9/11-type attacks by enemy aircraft, cruise missiles and drones.

“The project has been approved by the Americans at around $1.9 billion which is almost double the price at which we were anticipating it to be. We are concerned over the high cost of acquisition and we may have to look at other options also,” government sources said.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region,” a US State Department statement said.

Sources said the issue is expected to come up for discussion with the American side during the President’s visit.

The high cost of the American weapon systems is a cause of concern for other projects too like the acquisition of 30 Predator drones which will cost more than $100 million each with options of being used in a weaponised version as well as the reconnaissance roles.

Coinciding with the announcement of Trump’s India trip was a visit by a delegation from the US Nuclear Energy Institute to India.

“India plans significant increases to its nuclear generating capacity in order to meet its projected growth in electricity demand in a sustainable manner. US suppliers have an essential role to play in helping India to achieve its sustainable energy goals and in fulfilling the promise of US-India civil nuclear cooperation,” a statement by the Institute said.