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India - US ties put stress on China relations

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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi © REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

US president Donald Trump has invited the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to Washington. The Indian leader is the fifth foreign leader to talk on the phone with Trump. The call took place after a war of words between the US and India’s traditional enemy in the region, China.


Meanwhile, Trump’s election victory is partly thanks to the support of Indians living in the United States.

There are currently 3.1 million Indian Americans living in the US, and they are the third largest Asian minority after the Chinese and people from the Philippines.

Indian Americans traditionally voted Democrat, but this time around, many of them supported the republican candidate.

And Trump did actively campaign for their vote. In a campaign ad, Trump adapted a catchphrase used by Modi in his successful 2014 run for India's top job "Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkaar," which translates into English as "This time a Trump government" and said he was looking forward to working with the Indian leader.

“Trump is a businessman,” says Shalab Kumar, the chairman of the Republican Hindu Coalition, explaining why he supported Trump.

“He is aligned with our core principles: free enterprise; he is a free enterprise businessman, and there can't be anybody more free enterprise.

"We are optimistic and we believe that the [US] deficit spending will go down dramatically and it is quite possible that at the end of the first four year term, or maybe even earlier, we will have a balanced budget.”

“The third is strong family values. He is a family man, look at his family. And the fourth is a firm stand against terrorism,” he says.

But there is more than that what attracted some Indian Americans to vote for Trump.

“Quite a few of them felt that Trump would be friendlier towards India than the Democratic establishment,” says Kamal Chenoy, a political scientist with the Jawarhalal Nehru University in New Delhi.

“They remember that as Secretary of State, Hillary had been important in the intervention in and overthrow of the Libyan government of Muammar Khadaffi. So they saw her as a person who might even intervene in anything of India.”

Apart from the preferences of the Indian Americans, who help strengthing US-Indian ties, New Delhi does have wider, geopolitical interests that are served by better relations with Washington.

Quite a few of them felt that Trump would be friendlier towards India than the Democratic establishment
Modi and Trump 25/01/2017 - by Jan van der Made Listen

The phone call between Trump and Modi came at a time that Washington and Beijing are stepping up their war of words of the South China Sea.

“The Indian Prime Minister has invested much of his time on improving relations with the United States,” says Skrikanth Kondapally, of the India Center for East Asian Studies in New Delhi.

He has dropped a pro-Palestine stance and strengthened ties with Israel, Washington’s closed alley in the Middle East.

“He did meet with [Chinese president] Xi Jinping three times, but he has met with the President of the United States five times,” he says.

"With China, we have a territorial dispute, and also issues related to Kashmir where China is investing in the disputed territories, and also we have an emerging situation in the South China Sea.

"There we have 55 percent of our trade passing through, and China insists on imposing a territorial sea concept, that is while it is confined to military ships, it will also be extended to fishing and shipping in the future."

Kondapally points out that Trump may use India as a way to get closer to Russia, after all, India and Russia, and before that, the Soviet Union, are close allies.

“In that way, a closer relation to India will benefit Trumps’ policy of cozying up to Moscow and at the same time, creating an alley against Beijing,” he says.