Analysis of the Indo-U.S. joint statement: tougher on Pakistan, softer on China


A quick comparison between the 2017 and 2016 joint statements.

By all indications, the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump exceeded expectations of both sides, on the optics and on the language of their joint statement, especially given that officials in New Delhi and Washington had spent much time in the past week managing the expectations, predicating much on how well the two leaders got along.

The “visible personal chemistry” that Ministry of External Affairs officials referred to frequently, was on display, with the two leaders exchanging three hugs and several handshakes through the course of the day.

“This was frankly one of the most productive of all prime ministerial visits to the United States,” said Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, who as former Joint Secretary (Americas) and Indian Ambassador to the U.S. has witnessed the Singh-Bush, Singh-Obama and Modi-Obama relationship up close as well.

While more details of the agreements between the two sides will emerge over the next few days and weeks, a quick look at the joint statement issued on Monday, and a comparison with the joint statement issued a year ago by Mr. Barack Obama and Mr. Modi in June 2016, reveals a few important points.
Strategic convergence, shift to trade focus

The Indo-U.S. Strategic Partnership is on course, but with a new emphasis on trade and economic ties.

This is reflected by the title of the two statements: “Enduring Global Partners in the 21st Century” in 2016, and the more modest “Prosperity Through Partnership” this year.

While the 2016 statement focused on ‘Bolstering Economic and Trade ties’, this year’s statement is more direct on how that will be done, with references to “balancing the trade deficit” (which, as it is in India’s favour, is a sore point for the Trump administration).

However, the joint statement of 2017 continues previous references to “a growing strategic convergence” bolstered by military, maritime and intelligence cooperation. In addition, while India has yet to commit to buying Predator drones, a sale of 22 Guardian drones was cleared by the U.S. Cabinet last week. Mr. Trump said he was “pleased” that India buys U.S. defence products.
Terror and Pakistan

The language of the joint statement this year is much tougher on terrorism, specifically on Pakistan-based terror groups. A few hours before the Trump-Modi meeting, the U.S. State Department moved to make Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin a Designated Global Terrorist, a move that was welcomed by India.

Last year’s statement had the same wording when it came to “strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats from extremist groups, such as Al-Qa’ida, Da’esh/ISIL, Jaish-e Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, D Company and their affiliates, including through deepened collaboration on U.N. terrorist designations,” although this year has dropped the mention of “U.N. terrorist designations.”

The language on Pakistan is clear, and a departure from the past year, when all terror attacks from “Paris to Pathankot” were condemned.

“The leaders called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. They further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups,” the most direct message sent in an India-U.S. joint statement thus far.

Like the previous year, the U.S. also committed to the U.N. Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, an Indian initiative, as well as to supporting India’s bid for the membership of the U.N. Security Council and Nuclear Suppliers Group.

One of the most important documents signed by India and the U.S., the 2015 U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, seems to have been given a miss in the latest statement, which appears to have softened some of the language on China’s actions in the South China Sea.

For example, instead of saying the two countries would “ensure” freedom of navigation, overflight and commerce through the Indo-Pacific region (that refers to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean), the language in 2017 only “reiterates the importance of respecting freedom of navigation, overflight, and commerce throughout the region,” a significant toning down of the language that possibly reflects Mr. Trump’s current ties with Beijing.

In place of the 2016 language calling for India and the U.S. to “secure the domains” of land, maritime, air, space, and cyber, in 2017, it speaks of being “responsible stewards” and “democratic stalwarts in the Indo-Pacific Region.” No mention is made either of the “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” under which a tribunal ruled against China’s claims in the SCS, which was referred to the previous year. India indicated it had brought the U.S. over to its position on the Chinese “Belt and Road initiative” with a reference to “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” on regional connectivity projects, which has been India’s major concern.

Click here for the 2016 “Joint Statement – United States and India: Prosperity Through Partnership”
North Korea

North Korea is a new entrant into the Indo-U.S. Joint Statement, in keeping with Mr. Trump’s sharp focus on curbing the DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear and ballistic belligerence.

“The leaders strongly condemned continued provocations by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), emphasizing that its destabilizing pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile programs poses a grave threat to regional security and global peace. The leaders called on DPRK to strictly abide by its international obligations and commitments. The leaders pledged to work together to counter the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction programs, including by holding accountable all parties that support these programs,” the statement said, which is India’s strongest statement on the subject.

Traditionally, India has maintained trade and low-profile ties with North Korea, but in 2015, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj received North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong.

For weeks leading up to the Trump-Modi meeting, speculation had swirled around the idea that the U.S. would ask India for more support, with some reports speaking of a demand for up to 15,000 Indian Army troops to help with the U.S. and NATO’s flagging efforts at fighting the Taliban.

Thus far, the only senior U.S. official to visit India was U.S. NSA McMaster, who came to Delhi from Kabul and Islamabad, which also fuelled the theory the U.S. sees a larger role for India in the conflict in Afghanistan.

However, the joint statement was non-committal on the nature of India’s contribution for now, with Mr. Trump welcoming “further Indian contributions to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security. Recognizing the importance of their respective strategic partnerships with Afghanistan, the leaders committed to continue close consultations and cooperation in support of Afghanistan’s future.”

A clearer picture will emerge once Defence Secretary James Mattis unveils the U.S.’ revised Af-Pak policy in mid-July.
Climate change and nuclear deal

While cooperation on energy is highlighted in the Indo-U.S. Joint Statement, it was to be expected that America’s commitment to helping India battle Climate Change would be dropped from all reference, given Mr. Trump’s harsh observations when he pulled out of the Paris accord.

In 2016, this had occupied a hefty space, entitled “Advancing U.S.-India Global Leadership on Climate and Clean Energy”. In 2017, a line in the Trump-Modi Joint statement reads, “The leaders called for a rational approach that balances environment and climate policy, global economic development, and energy security needs,” with no mention of the “increased financial support from donor countries to the Multilateral (Climate Change) Fund” Mr. Obama had promised.

The Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal, which was due to see the conclusion of the NPCIL-Westinghouse agreement for six reactors by June 2017, appears to be on hold for the moment, with Foreign Secretary Mr. Jaishankar expressing the hope that Westinghouse, which has filed for bankruptcy, will be “back in business” by the end of 2017. Instead of the direct reference to funding the project by the “U.S. Exim Bank” in 2016, there was only a reference to “related project financing.”

However, on a positive note, “President Trump affirmed that the United States continues to remove barriers to energy development and investment in the United States and to U.S. energy exports so that more natural gas, clean coal, and renewable resources and technologies are available to fuel India’s economic growth and inclusive development,” indicating India will be making energy purchases from the U.S.