Hilary Clinton’s visit to India Not in Bangladesh

Hilary Clinton’s visit to India  Not in Bangladesh

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s choice of India for a visit of three days (17-19 July) in South Asia implies how important India is perceived from the Obama administration.

Although Hilary Clinton is known to have a soft corner for Bangladesh and for Grameen Bank, she did not visit Dhaka and went to Thailand from India to join the meeting of Asian Regional Forum of ASEAN, where she might meet with Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni.

Hilary’s by-passing Dhaka has disappointed many in Bangladesh. But her visit to India only demonstrates that political visits are based on hard realism of national interests and India has been a rising power in Asia to which the Obama administration must take notice of.

As money begets money, so also power attracts power. It works like magnet. Bangladesh is neither an economic nor a military power. To the US, a tiny island- state Singapore may get notice more than Bangladesh. This is a reality in international politics and we must bear in mind.

What are India-US interests?

The US and India are allies because strategic interests coincide, reinforced by democracy, oil diplomacy, war on terrorism and the presence of more than a million Indians in the US.

America’s engagement with India has been blossoming since the days of Vajpayee days of late 90s. The US-India nuclear pact, signed in mid 2007 and ratified in October 2008 by the US Congress was a significant milestone for relations between the two countries.

As the former American Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns – who played a key role in the negotiations – declared, the agreement signalled the beginning of a ‘strategic partnership’ between the two nations.

Strategic partnership is to be based on long-term shared strategic vision, based on convergence of strategic interests, mutual trust, confidence in each other and respect for each others strategic sensitivities.

Regional powers, such as India, cannot be influential actors without significant accretions to their military capabilities, both conventional and non-conventional.

India fully realises that it cannot achieve its due role in the region and globally without American participation. Only American power can restrain Pakistan’s adventurism and contain China increasing influence in the region.

On the other hand, American strategy in Asia is preoccupied with ‘managing’ the rise of China. It also means deepening relations with key Asian allies such as India, ASEAN and Japan. This strategy is designed to not only improve American standing and influence in the region but to also ‘manage’ the rise of China. Under these approaches, the plan is to prevent Chinese growing influence in the Asia Pacific region

Furthermore, India has a growing middle class (about 300 million and increasing every year) and they have disposable incomes to buy sophisticated American consumer goods.. It is a big market for American multi-nationals. There is a huge possibility for cooperation in joint investment, joint enterprise and joint exploitation of natural resources.

India takes seriously its long-standing status as an ‘independent’ rising power. Few things would be more unpalatable to New Delhi than being passed off as an ‘American messenger’ India might not agree to become a member of American security alliances in the region; but New Delhi and Washington have common strategic interests when it comes to ‘managing’ China.

An emerging India-US partnership appears to be an essential pillar of the new strategy. Washington would be happy to allow New Delhi a growing pre-eminence in Asia and in the India Ocean.

Against the backdrop, three-day visit to India of the Secretary of State is to be viewed.

Subjects raised during Hilary’s visit:

Ms. Clinton met the Indian Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, and the chairperson the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi. She later held talks on 18 and 19th July with Indian government officials on a wide range of issues, including nuclear nonproliferation, defence agreement, strengthening trade ties and combating climate change. The defence agreement will enable the US to sell sophisticated arms and weapons including building nuclear plants (about 40) in India.

To demonstrate India and the United States as allies in the fight against terrorism, Ms. Clinton stayed in the Taj Mahal which was attacked by terrorists on 26th November last year. She said at a news conference “We have a great sense of solidarity and sympathy, having gone through what we did on 9/11,” she added.

Earlier, Clinton attended a ceremony commemorating the November 2008 Mumbai attack, which killed 166 and raised tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.

She also met with 11 Indian business leaders, including Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, the largest privately held company in India. (Ambani is the richest man in India with $19 billion dollars).

Echoing remarks made by Ambani at the meeting, Clinton said that India should leapfrog the developed world to come up with its own innovative way to encourage environmentally friendly growth. “We believe India is innovative and entrepreneurial enough to figure out how to deal with climate change while continuing to lift people out of poverty and develop at a rapid rate,” she said.

India however does not want others to see the relations with the US as sacrificing its policies. Rather it considers the relationship with the US as a partnership to achieve its dominant role in the region and globally. India’s relationship with Russia has been growing and so also its economic relations with China.

Global economic power continues to shift to Asia, despite the current global crisis. An awkward truth is that the world is neither dominated by a unipolar power nor multipolar powers. Currently we live in a non-polar world and the balance of power is going through an evolution period in which G-8 has turned into G-20 as of necessity.

Clinton’s visit to India calls to mind what 19th century British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston once said “ We have no eternal allies and we have no permanent friends Our interests are eternal and perpetual and those interest it is our duty to follow.”. This dictum has not changed even after 200 years.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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