The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is going to visit India after making a speech about the relationship between the US and India at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Wednesday. Tillerson said, "India and the US must foster greater prosperity and security with the aim of a free and open Indo-Pacific," pointing out that India is a responsible democratic nation.
Meanwhile, Tillerson criticized China's diplomacy on South China Sea issues and indicated the US would "never have the same relationship with China, a non-democratic society."
He also mentioned so-called "predatory economics" and untransparent infrastructure construction investments. He claimed that US and India cooperation could guarantee the Indo-Pacific increasingly be a place of peace, stability and growing prosperity - so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict and predatory economics.
Obviously Tillerson's address made Beijing uncomfortable and it sent a bad signal ahead of US President Donald Trump coming to China next month. Although over the past decade the US has been trying to make India quasi-ally to balance against China, this "divide and conquer" method is not clever enough to outsmart the eastern wisdoms of China and India.
Although Beijing and New Delhi hold different opinions on border issues, Indian strategists of vision are still eager for independent diplomacy and strategic autonomy instead of opposing China. Based on forecasts by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and other international organizations, China and then India will replace the US to be the world's largest economy in the next decades. Stable relations between these three rather than confrontation between China and India are beneficial to the whole world.
Trump's Asia-Pacific policy has not been announced but he pays a lot of attention to the ties with India. The Trump family's business empire had many relations with India before he came to power. India was one of the largest investment areas for the Trump family's business and there are already five Trump buildings in India alone.
As can be seen, there are many similarities between Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They are both acknowledged as center-right wing politicians who enjoy anti-establishment posturing. Trump identifies with white supremacy deep in his heart, and Stephen Bannon who served as the White House chief strategist is a right-wing populist. He described Modi's won in 2014 election as a "global revolt." Modi's brand of Hindu nationalism helped him become prime minister of a country about 80 percent Hindu.
Trump strived for Indian-American support by wooing India. In the 2016 presidential election, the Republican Hindu Coalition led by Shalabh Kumar offered important support for Trump. Kumar and Modi knew each other a long time and Kumar was said to provide a special communication method for Modi and Trump.
Over the past few months, Trump and Modi have tightened interactions via phone calls and other means. During Modi's White House visit in June, the two leaders issued a joint statement pledging to expand and deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries. Trump identified India as a US "major defense partner" and the two countries established a new two-by-two ministerial dialogue.
During US Secretary of Defense James Mattis' visit to India in September, the US sold 22 Sea Guardian remotely piloted vehicles to India, the first time that the US sold such advanced weapons to a non-NATO nation. It was really a symbolic action. The US, India and Japan kicked off the Malabar 2017 naval exercise in July, the largest one so far.
In September, the US secretary of state, Indian minister of external affairs and Japanese minister of foreign affairs held a trilateral meeting discussing Indo-Pacific regional infrastructure construction as well as promising to aid countries with construction projects. The promise was acknowledged by many as opposition to China's Belt and Road initiative by Washington-New Delhi cooperation.
Many contradictions still remain in India-US relations. Modi won't satisfy all Trump's demands in trade and market openness because of his "India First" thought mode and Washington and New Delhi hold different opinions about global climate change and the green economy. Trump threatening to trash the Iran deal damaged relations between India and Iran and exerts an impact on the stability of the Middle East, India's largest supplier of resources.
India sees China as an important partner to prompt its economic development and it needs to maintain good relations with China as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS. In fact, India's refusal to let Australia participate in the Malabar exercise was to avoid iring Beijing.
In the past months, Trump's diplomacy is often criticized for unclear signals as a result of contradictions among US policy decision-makers. Ahead of Trump's upcoming visit to China, Sino-US relations are going through a sensitive time. Washington needs to be more cautious about the policy signals it sends. Beijing still has high expectations for Tillerson to improve relations between the two countries.