India-US relations will continue to grow in the years ahead for many reasons. The economic dimension is all-important to the US. India, already the fifth largest economy, could become the third largest in a decade, and possibly, the second largest by 2050. This prospect, which makes India’s huge market and talented human capital a great economic prize, will continue to drive India-US ties.

The China factor will play a role. India, because of its size and capacities, is the only country in Asia that can counter China. With US-China ties becoming openly adversarial, and China unveiling its ambitions to equal if not replace the US as a global power in 2049, India’s value as America’s partner will increase. India is not seeking to rival the US, it does not systematically steal technology from the US or threaten its cybersecurity.

India wants to reform the current global political and economic order, so as to have more say in international governance—but as a democratic state, not an authoritarian one which believes that its political and economic model is superior to the Western democratic one.

Maritime security has become an area of long-term geopolitical convergence between India and the US, encapsulated by the Indo-Pacific concept. The triggers are the unprecedented expansion of the Chinese navy, China’s search for maritime outposts and naval bases in the Indian Ocean, and, of course, its illegal conduct in the South China Sea. The security of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans is linked because China will first have to push back US power in the western Pacific to be able to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean to threatening proportions. The US has renamed its Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command. India, mindful of Association of Southeast Asian Nations sensitivities about the Indo-Pacific concept and the need to maintain adequate space for engaging China, has diluted the concept’s anti-Chinese connotations by clarifying in June 2018 that the Indo-Pacific was an inclusive concept and not a strategy directed against any country.

Defence ties with the US will continue to expand through institutional arrangements such as Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (Comcasa), the Industrial Security Annex, Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1), Major Defence Partner status, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (Beca) to come, and a revamped Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). India’s budgetary constraints apart, indigenous defence manufacturing will have to be promoted with US cooperation to sustain long-term growth of defence ties.

Areas of divergence with the US will continue. Trade issues, always contentious, could become more so as economic ties grow. US positions on trade and investment issues are lobby driven and therefore lack strategic direction. With the World Trade Organization (WTO) weakened, US will use bilateral tools to extract concessions. Energy ties with the US will expand.

The US, as a global power, will always try to fit India into the jigsaw of its interests worldwide, whereas India cannot induce the US to cater to its regional interests, be it in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran or West Asia. With US-Russia relations collapsing, the US has begun interfering in India’s relations with Russia through the extra-territorial application of its domestic law. The issue of human rights should not figure in relations between democracies, but the US has a propensity to pass strictures on other countries, including India, on human rights questions, and this could well continue to be an avoidable irritant in relations. The US will remain India’s most important partner across domains in the future, even as a reconciliation between America First and India’s emphasis on a more just and equitable international order to promote its own rise will have to be constantly attempted.

Kanwal Sibal is India’s former foreign secretary

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