Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

A Trump-Modi Alliance: Trouble Ahead for China

By Aditya BhardwajPublished February 27, 2017

Written by Aditya Bhardwaj, 2/27/17 Donald Trump's election as the 45th US President seems likely to further consolidate a burgeoning economic and defense-based partnership between the US and India.

Written by 
Aditya Bhardwaj, 2/27/17

Donald Trump's election as the 45th US President seems likely to further consolidate a burgeoning economic and defense-based partnership between the US and India.

Moments after his election as the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump was congratulated by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy. Four days after his official inauguration on January 20, President Trump returned the gesture, calling Prime Minister Modi to reinforce his commitment to American collaboration with its South Asian ally. It's also worth noting that one of the few religious events Trump attended during his presidential campaign was a Hindu Republic coalition ceremony in New Jersey. He even released a 30-second commercial, mimicking Prime minister's Modi's popular campaign slogan — "Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar" (This time, a Trump government.)

While India has enjoyed a warm relationship with the US over the last decade, the dialogue between the Indian Prime Minister and President Trump indicates that this partnership will be further consolidated over the next four years. America's new Secretary of Defense Colonel Mattis recently stated that the US would be actively pursuing a "long-term strategic partnership" with India to stabilize the Asia-Pacific region. This partnership will have two central advantages, for both India and the US.

The first will be creating an effective counterbalance to Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region. The Trump administration has repeatedly stated its disdain for what it considers unfair trade practices on the part of the Chinese government. Trump has even considered the possibility of a trade war with China due to its alleged currency manipulation practices. With this policy in mind, it becomes essential for the US to have significant leverage in any trade-based conflict it may have with China, and partnering with the world's second-fastest growing economy seems the best method to do so. Due to its recent slowdown, the Chinese economy has already begun losing substantial revenue to Indian markets, and American assistance may significantly accelerate this process, giving America the upper hand in any negotiations with its Chinese counterparts and providing India with greater growth and revenue opportunities. This is increasingly essential for the US in light of the Trump administration having repealed the Trans-Pacific Partnership , leaving China with the opportunity to solidify ties with its neighbors across the Asia-Pacific region.

Furthermore, from a realist perspective, an Indian-American alliance seems the most rational way to deter Chinese expansion in Asia. As shown by conflicts relating to the South China Sea as well as the state of Arunachal Pradesh in East India, China utilizes territorial expansion as a method of asserting its dominance over neighbors. Thus, a strong alliance between two nuclear-powered states will certainly dissuade China from executing such measures in the future.

The second element of a long-term alliance relates to the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. President Obama referred to Pakistan as a "dangerously dysfunctional" state, and President Trump has ostensibly continued this characterization, calling Pakistan "probably the most dangerous country in the world." This attitude will provide India with consolidated support on several Indo-Pak issues, including the Kashmir dispute, and may also lead to increased global sanctions against Pakistan. These sanctions, in turn, will compel the Pakistani government to adopt a stricter stance against homegrown terrorism and militant organizations.

Thus, while several aspects of the Trump administration's foreign policy stance remain unclear, strengthening their alliance with India seems to be a rational and probable decision from the outset. However, the one potential roadblock to this consolidation may be the issue of H1-B visas for Indian professionals, especially those in the IT sector. Both Modi and Trump were elected on the back of right-wing nationalist movements, and have consequently implemented protectionist measures for their national workers across professions. This policy may hurt India's IT sector, however, because multi-national IT corporations such as Infosys collect a majority of their revenue through outsourcing Indian professionals to the US.

Thus, the issue of Indian professionals' work permits must first be clarified before any consolidation between the two states takes place. However, keeping in mind the largely similar interests of both Trump and Modi, especially towards China and terror threats in Pakistan, it seems increasingly likely that a compromise will be reached.