The following article originally appeared on NDTV on June 28, 2017. An excerpt is below and the full text can be accessed here.
But amid all the surprises and continuity, the pomp and personal rapport, two takeaways really stand out from this meeting. One concerns India-U.S. convergence in the Indo-Pacific. This really was the headline from the visit, and underscored the central strategic rationale for the bilateral relationship. While not using the same language, perhaps too closely associated now with the Barack Obama administration, the meeting reflected an effective continuation of the Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which was agreed in January 2015. The latest statement encompasses common principles concerning the freedom of navigation, overflight, and commerce, and the peaceful resolution of disputes in the region. Indian Ocean security - whether U.S. involvement in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium or the centrality of the Malabar naval exercises - features prominently. The U.S. offer to sell Sea Guardian unarmed drones could mark a major contribution to India's ability to monitor the Indian Ocean, just as India's earlier acquisition of P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft proved a game-changer.
But what really stands out in the joint statement is a passage on regional economic connectivity. It outlines a set of principles, specifically that such connectivity should be based on "the transparent development of infrastructure and the use of responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment." These principles closely reflect India's prior statement of May 13 concerning its refusal to participate in the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Some Indian commentators felt that India was being "isolated" when it opted to boycott the Forum, a major diplomatic initiative of the Chinese government. But the U.S. endorsement of principles first articulated by India, coupled with similar concerns described separately by the EuropeanUnion and Japan, has put India in the unusual position of being a normative leader when it comes to regional connectivity, an increasingly important arena of international competition. The challenge, moving forward, is how India can further articulate, promote, and enforce such norms in its extended neighbourhood and beyond.