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The Push-Pull Factor: Balancing Interests – By Raakhee Suryaprakash

C3S Monthly Column M001/15


Be it Chanakya, Machiavelli, or any modern international relations expert the repeated refrain one hears in the field of foreign policy is that there are no permanent friends or enemies only permanent interests. It is in the search for this “convergence of interests” that new strategic partnerships emerge even as old ties are reinforced or abandoned. One such emergent alliance that’s dominated Indian media and minds is the new chapter in Indo-US relations following Prime Minister Modi’s “rockstar” performance during his visit to the United States in October 2014. Less than three months on Barack Obama consented to be the first American President to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day ceremony. The announcement was made over the Indian Prime Minister’s Twitter account – in keeping with his preference and active participation over social media.

In a stepping away from the symbolic posturing of Non-Alignment, the BJP-majority government has gone in for consolidating ties with the United States that had frozen in the last few months of the previous government. Not so different from Dr. Manmohan Singh sharing the stage with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Republic Day (January 2014). A pacifist prime minister witnessing the pride of our parade the BrahMos amongst our other nuclear arsenal – many made with Russian collaboration. Thus having US president as the chief guest is a sign of the continued shifting in Indian foreign policy.

Just as the presence of the Japanese premiere was a signal to the Chinese and others of our conscious effort in balancing ties, this time the visit of the US president will closely follow the visit Russian President Vladimir Putin over the power-packed  22-hour visit beginning at the end of  Human Rights Day (December 10, 2014). Despite American unhappiness with this move during their “boycott” of Russia of developments in Ukraine Barack Obama reaffirmed his plans to visit India in time for the 66th Republic Day (January 26, 2015).

Indo-Pacific Focus of the Asian Pivot

The developments of the proposed second meeting happened following Narendra Modi’s successful tri-national tour of Myanmar, Australia and Fiji in November 2014. After 1981’s visit by Indira Gandhi this is the next visit by an Indian prime minister to the Pacific island nation which boasts of a significant Indian population.  With Climate Change being of immediate consequence and concern to the island nations of the Pacific their leaders in turn balance the interests of emerging powers India and China. The countries represented at the talks in Fiji included Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue, Nauru, Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia.

In Myanmar the Prime Minister took forward his “Act East Policy” while addressing the East Asia Summit’s participant leaders. Similarly in Australia and at the G-20 summit the Indian delegation lead by PM Modi boosted India’s diplomatic standing in a manner that broke the ice for future initiatives. Emphasising the connections between terrorism and black money and the “need for a coordinated global approach on this issue” in the G-20 forum which accounts for “85% of the global GDP and 75% of global trade.” With the might of the NRI community as curious nationals behind him Modi also went on to strengthen the bond between India and Australia “beyond the shared values of democracy, multiculturalism, cuisine and cricket.”

The fact that the nations of Asia and the Indo-Pacific are looking within and strengthening intra-regional ties is symptomatic of the importance and extra-regional interest in the region. Thus with the brownie points accrued in these multinational fora and foreign visits, Prime Minister Modi returned to India in time to consolidate ties with an old ally the following month.

Indo-Russian Ties Reinforced

During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Indian visit many significant agreements and announcements were made:

* Russia remains India’s top defence supplier.

* The Ka-226T – an advanced multi-role helicopter – to be manufactured in India: 400 of the helicopters a year in India; could also be exported from India – according to the Russian deputy Prime Minister.

* India has proposed that Russia also manufacture spares and components for its defence equipment in India.

* Boosting Nuclear Energy Ties: State-owned Rosatom will supply 12 nuclear energy reactors to India over the next two decades.

* India’s Essar Group signed a deal with Russian oil producer Rosneft to import oil; Russian bank VTB will open a $1 billion credit line to Essar Group.

* Russian Direct Investment Fund and India’s IDFC agreed to invest up to $1 billion in Indian infrastructure projects including in ports, toll roads and hydropower.

* Tata Power signed a pact with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to increase energy investment between the two nations.

* Russia’s state-controlled diamond monopoly Alrosa will increase direct deliveries of the gemstones to India.

* India’s top iron ore miner NMDC signed an MoU with Akron to buy a stake in a potash mine in Russia.

Developments Calling for International Collaborations

Air tragedies and other international transportation disasters beginning with the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, followed by the shooting down of MH17 and most recently the search and rescue (S&R)/salvage efforts for the AirAsia flight QZ8501 continues to reinforce the need to joint exercises and sharing of best practices and information among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region. The latter’s salvage efforts over the past three days (December 27, 2014 onwards) involved the efforts of some 30 ships and 15 aircraft from nine countries has been looking for the aircraft since it vanished late on the night of the 27th. Seventy-two hours later wreckage and bodies were located in the Java Sea before bad weather temporarily suspended salvage efforts unlike in the case of the unsolved disappearance of MH370. Adding to such tragedies is the continued and evolved menace of terrorism as witnessed by the heartless and mindless acts of terror in Sydney, Peshawar and Bangalore in just the past month.

Renewing Indo-US Relations: Diaspora Muscle and “Make in India”

The FDI from the United States was at $800 million in March 2014 a drastic fall from the nearly $2 billion in 2010. With Modi’s clarion call to “Make in India” and the attendant response from American-Indians and NRIs as well as American investors the expectations from Obama’s presence at the Republic Day Parade are growing. Japan’s commitment earlier this year of US$35 billion dollars and China’s commitment of US$20 billion foreign investment in India during President Xi Jinping’s visit to India has added weight to drawing a substantial amount of FDI from the United States. According to one estimate%

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