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The Tillerson turn

US Secretary of State speaks of converging interests. Delhi must focus on practical cooperation with Trump's Washington

By: Editorial | Updated: October 23, 2017 12:01 am
rex tillerson, donald trump, rex tillerson india visit, rex tillerson speech, indo-pacific, india-US relations In a speech before his visit to the Subcontinent, Tillerson said America wants to be India’s most “reliable partner” in an increasingly uncertain world.

US President Donald Trump surprised India last August with a major departure from America’s South Asia policy by asking Delhi to play a larger role in Afghanistan and demanding that Pakistan immediately shut down the terror sanctuaries on its soil. Last week, it was the turn of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who put India at the very heart of America’s efforts to balance an increasingly assertive China. In a speech before his visit to the Subcontinent, Tillerson said America wants to be India’s most “reliable partner” in an increasingly uncertain world. Looking beyond the bilateral, Tillerson affirmed that India and America “are two bookends of stability on either side of the globe” with shared political values and converging economic interests. As he lauded India’s rise, Tillerson did not mince words about the challenges that Beijing poses to freedom of navigation, China’s attempts to “subvert the sovereignty” of its neighbours, and its “predatory economic policies”. Tillerson called for a more intensive regional collaboration between the US and Asian democracies — India, Japan and Australia — to ensure peace and promote prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.

Delhi has been quick to welcome the Trump Administration’s new approach to Pakistan and China — two factors that have long complicated India’s relations with America. In facing up to India’s concerns about Pakistan’s use of terror as an instrument of foreign policy and China’s quest for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, Trump and Tillerson have certainly raised hopes for a closer regional alignment between Delhi and Washington. But there is no dearth of sceptics who caution India against premature celebration. The US foreign policy establishment that is appalled at the Trump Administration’s incoherence and wild policy vacillations is barely saying two cheers to America’s renewed enthusiasm for India. The traditionalists in the Indian strategic community have always questioned the potential for any basic shift away from US partnerships with Pakistan and China.

To be sure, Rawalpindi’s critical role in stabilising Afghanistan and America’s worries about Pakistan becoming a rogue nuclear state have tended to stop the US from dealing with the sources of terror there. America’s extraordinary economic interdependence with China and Washington’s need for Beijing’s cooperation on a range of regional and global issues deter the US from an explicit balancing strategy. But India should resist the temptation for an endless debate on whether America can move away from China and Pakistan and be India’s reliable partner. Delhi should focus, instead, on strengthening practical cooperation wherever possible with Trump’s Washington. In the talks with Tillerson this week, Delhi must seek to stiffen America’s resolve to confront the Pakistan Army’s sponsorship of terror, encourage him to discard the residual bureaucratic hesitations in Washington about supporting India’s rise and delineate the pathways for constructing a stable balance of power system in the Indo-Pacific.

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  1. B
    Oct 23, 2017 at 9:25 pm
    India's weakness and isolation in the world as a result of Nehru's cussed loner policies led to China getting an extra incentive for aggression. Now that it is clear India is protected by her American alliance China is likely to cool down and behave better. Already she is trying sweet talk toward India as well as threats. Nepal has abandoned its usual scornful manner with India suddenly. bangladesh is sweetening up too, and so is Sri Lanka. Suddenly they see the game has changed. India plus the USA is a formidable combination ! But alliances that work need to be more than transactional. Mutual respect should be fostered as well as mutual benefit. India must give as well as take. If you commit to nobody in the Nehru manner, nobody will commit to you and you will have no friends when China strikes. India does need to overcome a bania refusal -to-commit mentality.
    1. S
      Nov 1, 2017 at 12:18 pm
      The plan was to get India stronger First and then "Commit" lest a neo-colonialism ensues. India was not the same then. A weaker India in the lap of a superpower could've completely made India a cog in American wheel For ex.- If US ensured food grain supply (as it did till some time), would Green revolution (hence self-sufficiency in food) ever have happened? In exchange for preventing starvation, wouldn't India be forced to do everything that US called for? Would then anything against US interests could've been done by India? Also, currently, there's not the same bipolarity as during the Cold war. Going with US would've meant enmity with Eastern Bloc. Today, some amount of balancing seems possible. Would that not have hurt India's interests? You are reading a completely diff. age from today's lens. That's not appropriate. Going into nuances n contexts maybe far more useful than such a straitjacketed (He was totally wrong, He is totally right) thinking. Discover, not assume
    2. Ganesan S
      Oct 23, 2017 at 3:19 pm
      Excellent article. I fully agree with the author. Being cynical as most analysts recommend will take us nowhere. As long as we calibrate our response with some caution, being mindful of the possibility of the US not walking the talk fully and not acting openly anti-China, I think we should tap relationship with the US to the hilt. Who knows, this could be a major turning point. Being skeptical will surely take us nowhere., just as our 'neither here nor there' at ude in foreign policy so far hasn't take us anywhere.