Modi, Trump will meet next month as India, US focus on stronger ties


Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet US President Donald Trump ahead of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Manila next month to review key aspects of the bilateral relations between the two countries including the initiative to improve connectivity in the Asia Pacific that US secretary of state Rex Tillerson discussed on his recent visit to India.

Indian and US diplomatic sources told Hindustan Times that while the date and timing of the “short meeting” were still to be decided, the two leaders would definitely meet for the second time this year. Modi leaves for Manila on November 12 and returns on November 14. Trump is in Manila on November 12 and 13, but returns to Washington before the EAS on November 14.

People familiar with the matter said one key focus of the Modi-Trump meeting will be the Indo-Pacific region and the impact of China’s ambitions and activities in the South China Sea. It could include exploring synergies between the navies of the two countries, they added.

In late September, US defence secretary Jim Mattis visited India. That was followed by Tillerson’s visit a month later during which he suggested a US-India initiative to counter China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Soon after, Japan said it was also part of the discussions on this.

On Friday, India’s Commerce and Industries Minister Suresh Prabhu held talks with US trade representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer on key aspects of trade between the two countries, including market access and intellectual property rights.

“Despite the uncertainties that the Trump presidency has generated, recent developments and indicators that there is long-term convergence between the two countries and their willingness to build further on that understanding continue to be quite evident,” said Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and the then prime minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy on the India-US nuclear deal.

Hindustan Times learned that the senate confirmation for US ambassador designate to India Kenneth Juster will go through before the Modi-Trump meeting in Manila. Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump is scheduled to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad on November 28-30, which will be inaugurated by Modi.

Experts say bilateral relations between the two countries are becoming stronger and point to the revival of the umbrella Defence Policy Group (DPG) dialogue that will happen soon.

US undersecretary of defence John Rood, a key player in the India-US nuclear deal, is going through the senate confirmation process and the stage is set for the DPG’s revival with his counterpart, India’s defence secretary Sanjay Mitra.

The joint technical group meeting between the Defence Research and Development Organisation and its Pentagon counterpart is scheduled next week. The date and timing of the meetings of the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries under the so-called two plus two rubric next year is also to be finalised soon.

However, the key focus of the Modi-Trump meeting will be the Indo-Pacific, with Asean countries largely impacted by aggressive Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea.

The two strategic partners are joined by Japan and Singapore to ensure that freedom of navigation and overflight rights are not hindered by Chinese posturing in east Asia. This means synergy between the Indian and US navies achieved through interoperability exercises and enforcement of rule of law in the Malacca Straits and other ingress routes to the South China Sea.