India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Donald Trump: Willing to break with past practice: Expert


The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump would set the tone and the framework for the bilateral relationship going forward, a leading expert on India and Asia has said.

‘The Trump administration wants export markets and India wants investments. Somewhere in there, there is a deal. These two leaders are deal-makers and they are both willing to break with past practice and past policy to accomplish things’, Senior Fellow for India with the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) Marshall Bouton, said according to sources. He also suggested the two leaders during their first meeting next week should focus on transforming bilateral economic relations.

The Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) tackles major policy challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific in security, prosperity, sustainability, and the development of common norms and values for the region, with a problem-solving mandate.

Bouton, who is President Emeritus of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, described economic relations between the two nations as the weakest as compared to the political and security pillars of bilateral cooperation.

Bouton, a nationally known expert on India and Asia, said the first meeting between Trump and Modi in Washington on June 26 will be ‘all about setting the tone and the framework for the relationship going forward’ but he does not expect the meeting to be big bang.

‘I am not dismissing the possibility, but I am not expecting major breakthrough announcements from this meeting. In some ways those would be the cart before the horse’, said Bouton, who is President Emeritus of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Bouton had last month authored a comprehensive ASPI paper The Trump Administrations India Opportunity, in which he called for the US administration to move decisively and engage Modis government to deepen cooperation and manage potential disputes.

Bouton said, that the most positive outcome of the first summit talks between leaders of the world’s largest and oldest democracies would be “a meeting of the minds on the issues that the two leaders want to pursue together.”

Bouton said if Modi and Trump want to think big about US-India relations, they should think about transforming economic ties in the manner that strategic ties strengthened under the George Bush administration with the civil nuclear deal and through the climate agreement under Barack Obama.

In his paper, Bouton, a nationally known expert on India and Asia, had noted that total US trade with India now exceeds 100 billion dollars. Although Indian exports increased rapidly over the last 15 years, Indian goods exports to the United States accounted for only 2.1 per cent of total US goods imports in 2016.

The total US goods trade deficit with India (USD 24 billion) in 2016 accounted for less than 5 per cent of the total US trade deficit.

‘I am sure there will be some articulation on the Indian side of concern about protectionism on the part of the US and pressure on India to reduce its trade surplus with the US. From the US side, focus could be on how to make the trade relationship more balanced’, Bouton said.

Listing the priority areas for the first Modi Trump meeting, Bouton said the two leaders must begin by emphasizing the strongest areas of mutual interest, which are clearly security and terrorism issues.

He noted that the Trump administration has not yet articulated with India its role in the broader Asia-Pacific region, importance of the US-India partnership over the next two-three decades of bringing stability and peace to Asia and India’s absolutely critical role in accomplishing that.

With regards to terrorism, he said both countries are grappling with the scourge and both are experiencing some growing concerns.

‘Another area in the security realm is Pakistan’, Bouton said, adding that Modi will want to share with Trump his view and his concerns about Pakistan behaviour in their bilateral relationship.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also be very interested to learn what is the strategy of the Trump administration on Afghanistan.

“What is the US interest in Afghanistan that is highly relevant to India’s interest. So I am sure that will be a very important subject of conversation. As part of that and also separately what does Prime Minister Modi want to hear from Trump about the US relationship with Pakistan going forward,” Bouton said.

Another key issue could be China and what is the Trump administration’s strategic view of China going forward, said Bouton, who has previously served as Director for Policy Analysis for Near East, Africa and South Asia in the US Department of Defence and as Special Assistant to the US Ambassador to India.

Marshall M. Bouton is Senior Fellow for India with the Asia Society Policy Institute and recently served as the Institute’s Interim Executive Director. He is President Emeritus of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, having served as its president from 2001 to 2013. Prior to that, he served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Asia Society from 1990 to 2001.

Mr. Bouton is a nationally known expert on India and Asia. He is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Centre’s board, which he chaired from 2004 to 2012. Mr. Bouton is is the author or editor of several books, articles, on India, Asia, and U.S. foreign policy.

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