Reviving Indo-U.S. Relations? US Envoy Bill Richardson's Visit to India

05 May, 1998    ·   82

Jolie Wood analyses the India visit of Bill Richardson, Permanent US Representative to the UN

Last week's high-level delegation from the United States was accompanied by a flurry of news reports reflecting the high expectations many Indians have for increased cooperation and closer relations with the US . Special Envoy Bill Richardson, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, met with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Union Home Minister L. K. Advani, and Defence Minister George Fernandes. Richardson was accompanied by Karl Inderfurth, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia , and Bruce Reidel, Senior Director for Middle East and South Asia in National Security Council, and other senior officials of the Clinton Administration.



On April 13, Richardson and Vajpayee held a brief meeting, during which they discussed the importance of Indo-US ties, India's foreign policy priorities, India's concern about combating terrorism (shared by the US), and briefly, the test-firing of Pakistan's Ghauri missile. Significantly, Richardson said that India and the US were both countries with global responsibilities, and should cooperate in meeting these responsibilities. Vajpayee called for closer ties in the areas of trade, investment, science and technology. Later in the day, Richardson met with Union Home Minister L. K. Advani, with the latter stressing India 's concern over the deteriorating internal security environment, particularly due to trans-border terrorism.



On April 14, Richardson and Inderfurth together met with Defence Minister George Fernandes. The discussion centered around regional security, including Pakistan 's test-firing of Ghauri and China 's possible role in the missile's development, and the situation in Afghanistan . Both sides confirmed the importance of continuing the Indo-US "strategic dialogue."



Inderfurth held a widely covered press conference, during which he called the test-firing of Ghauri "regrettable." He said he understood India 's security requirements: "We understand India 's compulsions and respect its security concerns. We see India has broader security requirements as a major power, and not only in this region." He also said, however, that India should focus more of its energies on economic and health issues. He said that the issues between India and Pakistan should be resolved by the parties themselves. On trade issues, he stated, "We would like to see India as a major player in the global marketplace." On nuclear cooperation, he said the US was "open" to the idea of revival of nuclear cooperation for the peaceful uses.



What is the basis for, and likelihood of, closer ties between India and the US ? What was the significance of this visit by the Richardson delegation? What will be the ramifications? Clearly, many Indians are eager to see technical and scientific cooperation with the US expand, and investment in the energy and power sectors increase. What are US interests in India ? The US wants India to open certain industries to foreign investment, particularly the insurance and pharmaceutical sectors. Moreover, India 's middle class is growing, and the purchasing power of India 's economic elite is said to be as great as that of Western Europe 's. So US industry interests are likely eyeing India 's consumers for their business.



Are there issues besides economic and technical cooperation drawing the two countries together? The role that the US sees India playing vis-a-vis China is unclear. Inderfurth stated that the US was "encouraged by the friendship between India and China ," and hopes "that it will continue." However, it seems also that the US may be hedging its bets on China . US foreign policy makers, and general opinion in the US , are divided on what the focus of US-China relations should be. China is viewed as an important market for trade and investment; however, there are also people who believe that China 's repressive political system, its dismal record on human rights, and its growing military assertiveness in East Asia pose a threat to US interests. Some Americans assert that China constitutes the biggest "threat" to the status quo since the demise of the Soviet Union . With a mind to the uncertainty of relations with China , the US may be looking for an ally in India , a regional power that could serve as a bulwark of democracy in Asia . This might mean that the US hopes that India can constructively engage China and influence its behavior in a way that the US cannot; it might mean that the US is looking to India to provide the kind of market opportunities that China offers, as a "back-up" in case relations with China deteriorate; or perhaps the US is seeking to groom India as a potential "balance" to China in terms of diplomatic and political power in the region.



There is clearly a great deal to be gained through increased Indo-US cooperation, on both sides: India can hope for infrastructural improvement, technological assistance, economic growth, possible US support in Sino-Indian relations, and diplomatic assistance in resolving issues with Pakistan. US industry would benefit from access to the Indian market and investment opportunities, particularly if US relations with China take a turn for the worse. Moreover, in such a case, the US could hope to have India as a strategic ally against China . Not least, the US needs India 's assistance in dealing with global issues such as nonproliferation, environmental protection, terrorism, human rights, and world economic growth.



Richardson 's delegation left a great deal of optimism in its wake. The Indian press has been heralding a new era of cooperation between the world's two largest democracies. Likewise, the mood at the American Embassy in Delhi is positive. Is this mutual optimism warranted? President Bill Clinton's visit later this year should help clarify what US intentions are in this region, and what hope there is for a close, constructive, mutually beneficial relationship between India and the US .