Trump’s Policy towards India
Ever since US President Donald Trump assumed office on January 20, his administration has made several statements and initiatives to make a radical shift in the established principles of US foreign policy. The first such indication came from President Trump’s inaugural address, in which he said “America First” will be the overriding theme of his administration.More to the point, Mr. Trump emphasised that under his administration, “no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries.” Trump questionedthe North Atlantic Treaty and also raised a question mark overthe US “One China policy” by choosing to make a telephonic call to the Taiwanese President and forced Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to cancel a visit to the White House.[i]
Trump’s soft attitude towards Russia, his saying that the two-state solution is not the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his strong stand on issues of H1B visa and immigration have equally sent shock waves to both allies and foes of the US.
India, which has significantly transformed its ties with the US over last two decades, is also keenly observing the foreign policy orientations of the US under the Trump administration. There are sections of Indian experts and diplomats who strongly believe that India and the US would continue to deepen the relationship under the Trump administration. One reason for this assessment is the fact that during his election campaigns Mr. Donald Trump had praised India and Indian origin-people in the US. He describedModi as a “great man,” and said that he was a “great fan of Hindus.” A large number of Indian-Origin people also voted for Trump in the presidential election. Though it is symbolic, President Trump’s call to Prime Minister Modi within five days of taking office further underscored his desire to enhance engagement with India. During the telephonic conversation, trump described India as a “true friend” of the US, and invited Prime Minister NarendraModi to visit the country later this year.[ii]
Trump’s focus on eradicating the menace of Islamist terrorism is an encouraging sign for India, given the fact Islamist terrorism is a major threat to India. Trump’s commitment to fight terrorism is also an indication of the fact that his administration would continue to keep US forces posted in Afghanistan and would also enhance the pressure on Pakistan to rein in terrorist organisations operating from its soil. New US National Security General Michael Flynn Advisor’s describing Islam as a whole as “cancer” has reaffirmed the fact that he would not treat Pakistan differently from other Muslim countries.[iii]
President Trump has taken the toughest stance on China. The new US administration has not only accused China of indulging in unfair trade practices, it has also questioned the US’ one China Policy. This in turn clearly suggests that he would follow the containment policy against China more aggressively than his predecessor did. Consequently, it is in the strategic interests of the US to continue expanding security ties with India, which has historical border disputes with China; recently, the Modi government has explicitly expressed the desire to work with the US to contain the rising clouts of China, especially in the South China Sea. It is in this context that the recent visits of Indian National Security Adviser AjitDoval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar to the US have been viewed as continuity in security relations between the two countries. During his telephonic conversation with erstwhile Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, the US Defence Secretary reaffirmed the commitment to sustain momentum on key bilateral defence efforts to include the defence technology and trade initiative and expressed the desire to build upon tremendous progress made in bilateral relations.
President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trance Pacific Partnership (TPP) has worked in India’s favour since it was not only principally opposed to this trade initiative, but had the TPP come into force, it would have caused India $2-6 billion – about 0.1% of GDP by 2030.[iv]
Trump’s reaffirmation of his election promise to tighten the use of the H1-B as a cheap labourprogramme, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program has the potential to reduce the India IT sector’s revenue. This is evident from the fact that while IT in India generated 60% of its revenues last year from the US and two-thirds of the H-1B sector visas issued by the US in 2015 were granted to Indians, if the new bill on the H1B visa issue proposed by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren in the House of Representatives seeking to double the minimum wage of H1B visa holders to $130,000 gets passed, the legislation would make it very difficult for Indian IT professionals to work in the US.[v]
At the same time, while President Trump has focused on bringing back industrial jobs to the US especially from China and Mexico, saying that he would charge China a 35% tax on every car and every truck and every part manufactured in their plants that come to the US, high tariff would also hit the Indian automobile industry, since several foreign car manufacturing companies including Nissan, Ford, Hyundai and others have their units in India and export their products to the US.[vi] Trump’s policy would also impact India’s Make in India programme, whose main aim is to increase exports in the country.
There is a rise of ultra nationalism in the US since the new administration came to power,leading to, instances of hate crime, eg, killing of an Indian engineer – Mr.SrinivasKuchibhotla in the Kansas state of the US.[vii]This in turn would minimise the influential role of Indian Diaspora and damage India-US relations.
Thus, before the feeling of ultra nationalism can show its ugliest form in the US, the Trump administration needs to bring the killer of SrinivasKuchibhotla to justice and ensure the safety and security of the people of other countries living there. While the Trump administration has reasons to continue security engagement with India, it should also address India’s concerns regarding the issue of H1B visa. The future of the relationship would also depend on how the Trump administration responds to the operational aspect of India-US civil nuclear agreement, to the issue of India’s membership in the NSG and the Security Council, among others.
[i] Trump’s Taiwan Phone Call was Long Planned, Say People Who were Involved, The Washington Post, December 4, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-taiwan-phone-call-was-weeks-in-the-planning-say-people-who-were-involved/2016/12/04/f8be4b0c-ba4e-11e6-94ac3d324840106c_story.html?utm_term=.33c15e93f1ec
[ii] Trump Invites Modi to US, Describes India True Friend, The Tribune, January 26, 2017, http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/trump-invites-modi-to-us-describes-india-true-friend/355601.html
[iii] Andrew Kaczyns, “Michael Flynn in August: Islamism a ‘Vicious Cancer’ in Body of All Muslims that ‘has to be Excised’, CNN, November 23, 2016, http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/22/politics/kfile-michael-flynn-august-speech/
[v] “US Work Visa Threat Alarms Indian IT Sector,” The Financial Times, February 8, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/961f1c0c-ed10-11e6-930f-061b01e23655
[vi] A Trump Presidency Will be a Blow to India on Many Counts, The Wire, https://thewire.in/27048/a-trump-presidency-will-be-a-blow-to-india-on-many-counts.
[vii] “Indian Engineer Killed, Another Injured in U.S. Hate Crime,” The Hindu (Chennai), February 24, 2017.