Good memories but no trade deal for Trump in India

US President again highlights good ties with Pakistan as riots rock New Delhi

By: News Desk      Published: 04:12 PM, 25 Feb, 2020
Good memories but no trade deal for Trump in India

Donald Trump failed Tuesday to strike any major trade deal with India at the end of a visit big on photo opportunities but short on substance and overshadowed by deadly riots.

The US president however announced strengthening the QUAD initiative – a security forum of US, India, Australia and Japan which aims at countering increasing Chinese influence in the region. 

Speaking after talks in New Delhi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump again underlined good relations of Washington with Islamabad.

“In our discussions, Prime Minister Modi and I affirmed the two countries’ commitment to protecting our citizens from radical Islamic terrorism. The United States is also working productively with Pakistan to confront terrorists who operate on its soil,” said Trump.

He had made similar remarks on the first day of his two-official visit to India on Monday, reportedly causing “offence” to a large crowd of Indians at a Hyderabad stadium that Modi had gathered to impress the visiting dignitary.

Trade deal

Taling about the much-anticipated trade deal, the US president only said that they had made "tremendous progress" towards a comprehensive agreement and that he was "optimistic we can reach a deal".

While minor compared to his trade war with China, Trump has slapped tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium and suspended duty-free access for certain goods in an effort to cut the $25-billion US trade deficit with Asia's third-biggest economy.

Under pressure to deliver ahead of elections in November, he has pressed for greater access to the vast Indian market of 1.3 billion people for US dairy producers, makers of medical goods and for Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

But Modi, who has a lot in common with Trump with his "Make in India" mantra echoing Trump's "America First" slogan, has responded with higher tariffs on US goods including $600 million worth of Californian almonds.

Modi, speaking alongside Trump a day after they appeared together at a raucous rally in front of 100,000 people, said only that both sides "have agreed to start negotiating for a big trade deal".

Eye on China

“Together, the Prime Minister and I are revitalising the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue)…. Since I took office, we have held the first QUAD ministerial meeting, and expanded cooperation on counter-terrorism, cyber security and maritime security to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the US President added.

QUAD was revived in November 2017 as part of efforts to contain China, which is seeking to exert its influence in the region with its multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is a vehicle for the Asian country to take a greater role on the international stage by funding and building global transport and trade links in more than 60 countries.

The US and the other three countries had come together to provide humanitarian assistance after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had then suggested that they form the QUAD, which met three years later.

The meetings stopped for a decade after China formally reached out to each country to seek information on the purpose of the meetings.

The QUAD met again in 2017 and the Ministry of External Affairs said they addressed “issues of common interest” such as terrorism and “proliferation linkages impacting the region”.

5G telecoms network

President Trump said he also discussed with PM Modi, whom he called his “dear friend”, the importance of a secure 5G telecoms network in India, ahead of a planned airwaves auction by the country.

The United States has banned Huawei, arguing the use of its kit creates the potential for espionage by China - a claim denied by Huawei and Beijing - but India, where telecoms companies have long used network gear from the Chinese firm, is yet to make a call.

Grand welcome

Arriving on Monday Trump hailed India and its "tremendously successful" but "very, very tough" Modi at the rally inside the world's largest cricket stadium in Modi's home state Gujarat.

The razzmatazz of the "Namaste Trump" event was recompense for a "Howdy Modi" extravaganza in Houston last year when the two leaders held hands and Trump compared Modi to Elvis Presley.

Trump and First Lady Melania then flew to the Taj Mahal where they held hands, and on Tuesday were given the full pomp of an official welcome and paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at the independence hero's memorial in Delhi.

Trump and Modi did however announce $3 billion in defence deals, including for the sale of naval helicopters, proof of their deepening strategic alliance to counter the rise of China in the region.

But the absence of a trade deal between the world's biggest economy and its second most populous nation showed that behind the bonhomie they remain far apart. At Monday's rally Trump described Modi as "very very tough".

Sectarian violence

Police officials said on Tuesday that seven people were killed and about 150 injured in clashes in the Indian capital during protests over a new citizenship law.

The violence that broke out on Monday coincided with US president's arrival in India.

But Trump, at least in public, stopped short of voicing unease about the anti-Muslim law that has raised concerns around the world about the direction of India under Modi.

The law, which critics say forms part of Modi's plan to remould secular India as a Hindu nation -- something he denies -- has sparked weeks of protests and violence, including in Delhi on Monday and Tuesday.

A standoff between supporters and opponents of the law degenerated into running battles between Hindus and Muslims on the northeastern fringes of the megacity of 20 million people, local media reported. 

The seven dead included a policeman, a senior police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity. He said that more than 90 civilians and almost 50 people have been injured.

Rioters armed with stones, swords and even guns went on the rampage, setting fire to buildings and vehicles. Further rioting was reported on Tuesday with a large cloud of black smoke rising in the sky.

"We are getting reports of ongoing incidents of violence," senior policeman Alok Kumar told AFP. "The protesters are attacking police wherever they are present and clashing among each other where the police aren't there."

The authorities responded with tear gas and smoke grenades, sending in paramilitary security forces, shutting schools and banning the assembly of more than four people in the areas affected. 

Mindful Melania

Against that backdrop, the First Lady visited a school to watch a "happiness class" in which children meditate and focus on mindfulness to make them better pupils and citizens.

The curriculum was launched in 2018 by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and has piqued the interest of Melania Trump who has promoted a "Be Best" initiative for US children.