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India looks east amid US-China trade war

Bloomberg Bangkok | Updated on August 01, 2019 Published on August 01, 2019

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is in Bangkok to attend the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting, will hold a number of bilaterals with his counterparts, although India is expected to take a cautious approach on many issues, including China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

New Delhi “does not want to alienate China,” said Kanti Bajpai, director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore. “It will avoid commenting on Belt and Road and the South China Sea, it will be cautious on RCEP and it will probably avoid saying much on the Indo-Pacific.

ASEAN has emerged as one of India’s key trading partners in 2017-18, with a share of 10.58 per cent of overall trade. Bilateral trade has grown to $81.33 billion in 2017-18 from $56.24 billion in 2010-11.

S Jaishankar will also hold talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the meet.

He will also meet US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Bangkok. The meeting will be the first high-level interaction between the UK and India since Boris Johnson took the reins as Prime Minister.

India’s strategy

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, he has moved towards a closer alignment with countries that act as a counterweight against a rising China.

The US has sought to engage India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, and has enlisted New Delhi it in a grouping known as ‘The Quad’ along with Japan and Australia.

Since his appointment after Modi swept to power for a second term in May, Jaishankar has faced the challenge of navigating India’s relations with the US and China at a time when the two nations are locked in a trade war.

Even though New Delhi shares strategic ties with Washington on the back of closer military co-operation in recent years, Modi is also trying to rebuild relations with Beijing that were strained due to long-simmering border disputes.

Still, India has fallen further behind Beijing, which has continued to outspend the South Asian nation on defence, implemented sweeping reforms in its military and diplomatic structures, and built strategic infrastructure in India's backyard — not to mention providing arch-rival Pakistan with defence technology.

One priority for Jaishankar will be to clear pending defence agreements with the US and other equipment suppliers, as India attempts to modernise its ageing military hardware amid border tensions with Pakistan.

Published on August 01, 2019
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