With the threat of an economically and militarily assertive China looming before the US and India, US President Donald Trump chose India’s Independence Day to signal that Washington has New Delhi’s back by announcing the two countries ”will elevate their strategic consultations.”
The US President called Prime Minister Narendra Modi+ amid domestic political turmoil in both countries (Trump buffeted over his softballing of white extremism in Charlottsville and Modi rocked by the Gorakhpur tragedy) ostensibly to congratulate Indians on the country’s Independence Day celebration. But a White House readout on the call went far beyond the pleasantries, disclosing that ”the leaders resolved toenhance peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region+ by establishing a new two-by-two ministerial dialogue that will elevate their strategic consultations.”
The read-out did not elaborate on the two-by-two dialogue, but it said the two countries have a long overdue annual strategic dialogue mechanism instituted by previous administrations that typically involve high cabinet officials from both sides, including the secretary of state and commerce secretary from the US and their Indian counterparts.
Although the White House statement did not refer explicitly to China, much less the Doklam issue, the reference to enhancing peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region appears to be shot across Beijing’s bow, and constitutes a continuation of the recognition by the Obama administration of India’s stakes in the region.
The White House statement also came hours after Trump announced a review of China’s trade practices+ , dialing down on his threat to initiate strong actions that could lead to a trade war in which both sides will suffer.
Notably, there was no Trump phone call to any Pakistani leader on the occasion of that country’s Independence Day, confirming the impression that Washington has long de-hyphenated the two countries+ . Secretary Tillerson recently engaged with Islamabad with prospects of some bilateral visits involving him and Pakistan’s new foreign minister KM Asif.
Trump also sought to ramp up business ties with India specifically talking up the Global Entrepreneur Summit in Hyderabad, India, this coming November for which he has detailed his daughter Ivanka Trump to attend.
”As the leaders of two of the world’s largest and fastest-growing major economies, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi looked forward to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India this November. President Trump has asked advisor to the President Ivanka Trump to lead the United States summit delegation,” the White House readout noted.
Two other significant disclosures made in the White House readout that point to the growing geo-political engagement between the two countries on the opposite sides of the planet but now on the same side of the geo-political alignment: Trump talking up US energy supplies to India, including what the White House called the ”first ever shipment of American crude oil to India… from Texas this month,” while pledging that the ”United States would continue to be a reliable, long-term supplier of energy,” and Modi thanking Trump for his ”strong leadership uniting the world against the North Korean menace.”
The US energy supply commitment to India is essentially aimed at weaning New Delhi away from the Gulf/Arab countries that have long been India’s primary suppliers. But China is also a buyer of American crude oil that has been liberated to export following the fracking boom that had made U.S an energy exporter.
Modi thanking Trump for his ”strong leadership uniting the world against the North Korean menace” is also a rare recognition the US President’s foreign policy chops that have been widely ridiculed in the US liberal media and across the world.
There was no indication in the White House read out or from the Indian side whether the two leaders discussed the principal enablers of North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles – China and Pakistan.
In a separate message on the occasion of India’s Independence Day, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States is ”proud to stand with the people of India, the world’s largest democracy, in the cause for freedom and prosperity around the globe.”
”Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious vision for the US-India relationship holds great promise for advancing our shared interests in the 21st century, and we look forward to the many years of friendship before us,” Tillerson added.