Obama’s India visit significant, a signal to China: Expert

Saturday, November 6, 2010

WASHINGTON - It is “significant” that India is the first stop on US President Barack Obama’s four-nation trip as it shows “the importance the US attaches to India”, a US expert has said.

George Perkovich, vice president for studies and director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a video Q&A: “The main significance of the trip is to demonstrate and show the importance the United States - and particularly President Obama - attaches to India”.

The four-nation Asian tour is also a “signal” to China of the importance the US places on democracies, he said.

“In a sense, its to show the flag and to reciprocate for (Indian) Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs visit to Washington when he was the first foreign visitor on a state visit during the Obama administration.”

Obama, along with wife Michelle and top officials, arrives in India Saturday on a four-day trip. On Sunday, he will reach New Delhi where he has a string of engagements. He leaves for Indonesia Tuesday. He also goes to South Korea and finally Japan.

Perkovich stressed it was “significant that India is the first stop on the trip, but its also noteworthy that he is visiting key Asian democracies. Its India, its Japan, its Indonesia - theres a subtle signaling that values matter in foreign policy and that democracies are especially important to the United States”.

“And all of this is a signal to China, but also to the American body politic and India and Japan, that theres a special connection among democracies.”

He pointed out that US-India relations were important in several ways. “First, its important that they arent negative and that there is a sense that these two countries are on a positive trajectory - this is very important. In the positive direction, the trend is most important.”

He explained that “it is not a question of war and peace as its impossible to imagine the United States and India going to war. And the two of them are not going to solve the global economic crisis together. So, there isnt any particular problem that they are going to solve together or particular crisis that they could create together. What you want to see is the general upward trend of the relationship.”

On India-US relations, Perkovich said: “US-India relations were on a positive trajectory from the middle part of the Clinton administration onward - and this was a very good thing. The success of American Presidents (Bill) Clinton, (George W.) Bush, and Obama and Indian Prime Ministers (P.V. Narasimha) Rao, (A.B.) Vajpayee, and Singh basically helped the two countries on a positive trajectory.”

The expert said that the two countries in the short term have a lot of divergent interests.

“In the long term, both countries want the same kind of world and they both want each other to succeed. But in democracies especially, politics is all about the short term.

“For example, on trade issues India wants its workers to have more access to the US, especially its educated workers including accountants, IT professionals, lawyers, and so on. The US is worried about unemployment and protecting jobs, so it frustrates India by not changing the terms under which Indian workers can come to the US. The United States would like greater access to the Indian market for American farmed goods and other goods. But, India has 400 million small farmers and its worried about employment in India, so it doesn’t accommodate the US position.”

To a query, he responded: “When people talk about India being a counterweight to China, you need to ask what they mean. If theyre thinking in terms of military balancing, its the wrong expectation and, in a sense, its the wrong question.

“In the twenty-first century, the balance that needs to be made isnt military - that can be done and its important - but is really economic. Chinas power has come from economic growth, its share of the global economy, the debt it holds, and so on. So, the US, India, and other countries need to balance China in an economic sense, and thats a much harder thing to do than balancing military power.”

He wraps up, saying: “Its fair to say that the administration hasnt paid as much attention to India as people hoped, but one can counter this with the fact that the US has had a lot of other things to deal with”.

“Hopefully this visit will signify to India and others that, notwithstanding everything else thats going on, India really is important.”

will not be displayed