New Delhi: Making a case to take India US relations to the next level, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the Trump and Modi governments have a "unique opportunity" to seize the chance to make this happen.
"As Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi said in his latest campaign, 'Modi hai to mumkin hai,' or 'Modi makes it possible', I'm looking forward to exploring what's possible between our people," Pompeo said in a major India policy speech at the India Ideas Summit of the US-India Business Council on Wednesday.
Pompeo is due in New Delhi on 25-26 June on the first leg of an Asia tour that will also see him visit Sri Lanka on his way to the G-20 Summit in Osaka. After the G20 meet, Pompeo will be travelling to South Korea. The trips are seen as broadly aimed at deepening US partnerships in the strategic Indo-Pacific region. In New Delhi, Pompeo will seek to lay the groundwork for a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Japan during his talks with his new Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
Ties between the two countries have warmed considerably in the past two decades with more bilateral visits at the US presidential and senior official levels than ever before. But relations currently are weighed down by a series of trade irritants — something Pompeo alluded to in his speech.
The US, he said, is open to dialogue to resolve trade differences with India by allowing Americans companies more access to Indian markets."We remain open to dialogue, and we hope that our friends in India will drop their trade barriers and trust in the competitiveness."
“We'll also push for the free flow of data across borders – not just to help American companies – but to protect data and ensure consumer privacy," he said.
Washington has been particularly annoyed by India's tightening of regulations that have undermined major US companies but favoured domestic firms. In particular, tighter e-commerce rules that came into force earlier this year hurt Amazon.com Inc and Walmart Inc, which last year bought Indian online retailer Flipkart for $16 billion.
Trade friction aside, Pompeo also listed out some of the "big ideas and big opportunities" that can take the bilateral relationship to a new level.
First, the two countries have to build ever-stronger relationships, he said.
"Forging strong ties means formalizing these individual friendships. Last year, we kicked off the '2+2 dialogue' alongside the Department of Defence. We've also reinvigorated the Quad Dialogue among India, the United States, Japan, and Australia - all like-minded democracies in the Indo-Pacific. These are all good steps," he said.
India and the US, he said, must embrace the strategic framework that works for both the nations. "We respect India as a sovereign power, with its unique politics and strategic challenges. We realise it's different to deal with the likes of China or Pakistan from across an ocean than across the border," he said.
Making a strong case for a free and open Indo-Pacific, he said it starts from the premise that the two share common values of democracy, freedom, and a belief in the ingenuity of the human spirit. "It's only natural that the world's most populous democracy should partner with the world's oldest democracy to maintain their shared vision for the Indo-Pacific."
"Third, we have to deliver," Pompeo said.
The Trump administration has already enabled US companies to export more high technology military hardware to India, including cutting-edge defence platforms like armed UAVs and ballistic missile defence systems. "We've already launched the Asia-EDGE programme, to help India raise private capital to meet its energy security and access needs," he said.
The first batch of India-ordered Apache helicopters are coming off Boeing's production line in Arizona. Lockheed Martin's F-21 and Boeing's F/A-18 are state-of-the-art fighters that could give India the capabilities it needs to become a full-fledged security provider in the strategic Indo-Pacific region.
"These are solid achievements, but we want to do much more. We clearly have overlapping interests in defence, energy, and space," Pompeo said.
In the energy space, “we want to complete the Westinghouse civil nuclear project, and deliver more American LNG and crude," he said, adding that these steps will give Indians reliable and abundant energy and help reduce dependence on countries like Iran and Venezuela.
On space, NASA is already working with the Indian Space Research Organisation on the world's most advanced earth-observation satellite and India's second lunar mission, he said.