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Decoding India’s tilt to the United States

India is increasingly partnering with the United States, as shown by Narendra Modi’s successful visit to the US in June 2023. Readers may ask how this can be, given decades of anti-Americanism in Delhi, and apparent indifference to India in Washington? The answer lies in two words: business and China.

Perhaps it is too early to call India a full-fledged American ally. There are marked differences between the two countries on certain issues, such as Russia. India is neutral on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to considerable American annoyance while the US’ historical support for Pakistan (despite that country’s ties to terrorism), hectoring on human rights (often on flimsy or outright baseless grounds) has long been a soured of irritation for India. Nonetheless, the two countries do have things in common. Their systems of government are democratic, with diverse and pluralistic societies. The things that tie them together are really rooted in common opportunities and common threats. The common opportunities lie in the massive business prospects offered by a booming Indian economy, and a big common threat in China.

The business opportunities offered by India’s vast and youthful market are considerable. The investment by the US in India’s efforts to manufacture semiconductors and consumer electronics will both help lower production and market costs, as cheaper Indian made products begin to hit the shelves. That is an economic win-win for both the US and India. Delhi can provide employment to a large workforce which is still quite low skilled, while America can secure the interests of its consumers and potentially contribute to cooling global inflation by investing in Indian manufacturing.

Geopolitically, America feels threatened by the rise of China. Some would argue that this is the natural response of an existing hegemon to the rise of a challenger. However, nearly all of China’s neighbours find it similarly threatening. China’s behaviour toward its neighbours has been crude, disrespectful, and aggressive. It attacked India in June 2020, has seized territory from the Philippines and is steadily ratcheting up tensions with Japan and Taiwan. Russia is unsure whether it can trust China not to try to grab pieces of Siberia in future, given its distraction in Ukraine – Moscow is selling advanced arms to China’s regional rivals such as Vietnam and India. Given the size of the Chinese economy, and the resultant industrial capacity, even the US is not sure whether it can prevail in a confrontation with China. The only other country with similar population and economic potential to China is India. It makes a lot of sense for India and the US to team up, to deter Chinese threats to one another’s interests.

Co-operation will have limits, of course. It is hard to envisage India getting directly involved in a US-China war over Taiwan, while the level of American support to India in the event of further Chinese attacks in Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh is still an unknown. However, Delhi and Washington have many geopolitical opportunities and threats in common, supplemented by complementary strengths (such as AI and manufacturing) which enables both countries to prosper. It makes sense for both countries to put past apprehensions aside and co-operate for a brighter future.


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