Monday, March 21, 2011


Feb 2011
Neelam Mathews

Indian winters usually see a spike in visiting foreign
tourists and 2010 was no different, except it included
four of the world’s most powerful people who came to
tour, trade and transact with the world’s second fastest
growing economy. An economy hungry for nuclear energy
and defence technology, signifying a sign of changing
times and an indication of India’s willingness to look

New Delhi’s growing clout as an economic powerhouse
that needs to be befriended saw David Cameron, the British
Prime Minister, US President Barack Obama, Chinese
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, French President Nicolas
Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev all visit
New Delhi in 2010. India is now too big to ignore, hence
major world leaders beating a path to India’s door for both
economic and strategic reasons.

The significance of these visits is that the US is increasingly
engaging with India and this challenges many of
the traditional relationships that have sustained India in
the foreign/strategic policy realm over the years. There
is still much work to do on the Indo-US relationship, but
the many shared values between the two nations could
conceivably see ties become closer and that could open a
new chapter in Indian foreign relations.

President Obama started his visit to India with Air
Force One landing in the business capital of Mumbai
where deals worth $10 billion were announced. These included
10 Boeing C-17 military transport aircraft for the
Indian Air Force (IAF), the acquisition of 30 Boeing 737-
800 aircraft worth some $2.7 billion by Indian commercial
airlines, and an $822 million deal with General Electric to
supply engines for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.
“The United States sees Asia, and especially India, as
a market of the future,” said Obama
in an address to corporate leaders before
leaving for New Delhi. “We don’t
simply welcome your rise as a nation
and a people, we ardently support
it. We want to invest in it. And I’m
here because I believe that in our inter-
connected world, increased commerce
between the US and India can
be and will be a win-win proposition
for both nations.”
Obama also threw in his open support
for India joining the United Nations
Security Council (UNSC) - a first
for the reigning superpower - besides
the similar support it has offered for
Japan. This support for Indian UNSC
membership is expected to give the
US leverage when negotiating military
deals with India, according to analysts.

Old Friends And New Friends
China, India’s biggest trading partner
and erstwhile strategic competitor,
made its mark with a state visit by
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao overseeing
Indian and Chinese companies
signing deals in the power, telecommunications,
steel, wind energy, food and marine products sectors worth
$16 billion. With the increasing US-India
alignment in the background, Wen
underscored the importance of Indo-
Chinese ties, before flying off to Pakistan.

“My visit to India is a journey of
friendship and cooperation,” Wen said
diplomatically, adding, “China and
India are partners for cooperation, not
rivals in competition. There is enough
space in the world for the development
of China and India.”

India and China have fought a war
in the past and an ongoing Himalayan
border dispute sees no signs of resolution,
even as China’s trade, political
and economic relations with Pakistan
are now being compared by some to
those between Japan and US.

France has been a long-term strategic
partner with India and has no
intention of losing its position in the
critical Indian marketplace. President
Nicolas Sarkozy flew into India with
a delegation of about 60 business leaders
and emerged with a host of deals,
worth some $20 billion, in civilian nuclear
energy, defence and aviation.

Russia, India’s oldest ally, kept
the strategic momentum rolling just
before Christmas break. Nearly 30
agreements, including a preliminary
design contract for a Fifth Generation
Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) for the Indian
Air Force, worth up to $30 billion and
pacts in hydrocarbon and civil nuclear
energy were signed between Russian
President Dmitry Medvedev and Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“Russia is a time-tested friend of India
that has stood by us in our times of
need,” Singh said, in keeping with the
traditional bonhomie between Moscow
and New Delhi.

Finally earlier in 2010, during the
Indian summer, the UK’s David Cameron
in July had already won a $1.1 billion
contract for supplying the Indian
Air Force and Navy, with 57 more
Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft
from BAE Systems. “In Britain, we’re
waking up to a new reality,” said
Cameron in an article for The Hindu
newspaper. “Economic power is shifting
- particularly to Asia – so Britain
has to work harder than ever before
to earn its living in the world. I’m not
ashamed to say that’s one of the reasons
why I’m here in India.”

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