It was a departure from protocol, when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepped into the car. He wanted to greet his visitors in person at the airport.
The visitors were not your usual dinner guest. It was the then leader of the free world, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.
When Modi arrived at the airport, he stepped out of the car and walked over to stand next to the imperial Air Force One and wait. The Obamas entered the scene shortly after with big smiles for the cameras.
When Barack Obama approached Narendra Modi, Modi swung his arm in a strong handshake. A type of handshake as between friends, who haven’t seen each other for some time.
And then, unclear who first made the move, the leaders of the two biggest democracies in the world embraced each other in a boyish bear-hug, patting each other on the back.
A few moments later, after they again had shaken hands, Modi didn’t let go with his left hand, and two leaders stood hand in hand for ten long seconds.
This aspired to some laughter on the internet and it wasn’t the first time as Modi had become an expert of cringe worthy moments with state leaders.
But the hug and holding hands did send a clear message. Obama and Modi had begun a potential political romance that could change the power balance in Asia.
Mere om Indiens 66-årige premierminister på
India is roaring (brøler)
It is not a coincidence that Obama looked to improve relations to India. India had long been seen as ‘the next China’ with a staggering growth rate in GDP.
Still, India is years behind their neighbors when it comes to economy, military and power. But that doesn’t mean they can’t catch up with the Chinese dragon.
In 2014, India chose Narendra Modi as the new prime minister, who promised to strengthen India economy.
So far, he has kept his promise. India keeps on showing impressive growth rates with a GDP growth rate of 7,6 percent in 2015 and an estimated growth of seven percent in 2016, according to the World Bank.
The World Bank furthermore predicts that India even sets up the pace and will have a GDP growth between 7,6 and 7,8 percent in 2017-2019.
Last year, India finished as number seven in the nominal GDP race, but in 2020, India will gain two places, and by 2030 India will break into the top three sitting behind only China and the US.
Some fortunetellers even see India surpassing China in the future and becoming the world biggest economy.
But it won’t happen any time soon. India is still in dire need of reforms and Modi has big challenges in front of him. Poverty, corruption and illiteracy (ikke at kunne læse og skrive) are just the top of Modi’s to-battle list.
To steer the economy forward, Modi launched a “Make in India” campaign, that invited foreign investors to come to India and set up manufacturing units to supply to the rest of the world.
Modi presented a logo for his new India; A lion. The lion is created by cogs (tandhjul) and should symbolize strength, manufacturing and national pride. But it also shows that India is ready to show its teeth and the lion roars towards east.
Brothers in arms (våbenbrødre)
China is the strongest power in the region, and US have tried to curb China’s power by setting up bases, trying to dispute China’s move in the South China Sea and negotiating trade deals with China’s neighbors.
This strategy has maybe been jeopardized as the new president Donald Trump is eager to show his art-of-the-deal skills by insisting on renegotiating deals and withdrew America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership between US, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore among others.
But USA’s courtesy towards India is still on – for now at least.
For India, US is a way to support their path to prosperity and power. US is already the biggest market for India, when it comes to export goods and India has a solid trade plus with US.
From 2005 to 2016, imported goods from India to US rose by 145 percent. In the same period, imports from China rose ‘just’ by 90 percent.
Imported goods from India is now almost at the same level as US’s long term ally UK, who only increased their export by six percent in that period.
And it is not just cheap t-shirts and action figures that’s being traded. Hard military power is also switching hands, where US the recent years have become the main supplier of military equipment for India with contracts worth almost 13 billion US dollar (ca. 90 milliarder DKR), thediplomat.com reports.
Also, US have supported India’s effort to become a part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, where neighbors China alongside Pakistan have been opposing.
Membership will both provide better access to low-cost, clean nuclear energy that support the economic growth – but it’s also a matter of pride for India.
Prosperity and security
The India-US romance is not just about trade and friendship.
American disapproval of China’s behavior in the South Chinese Sea is well known, and India too has disputes with China regarding old feelings, border and sea. A joint strategy was therefore no surprise.
“… we will build on our partnership to support sustainable, inclusive development, and increased regional connectivity by collaborating with other interested partners to address poverty and support broad-based prosperity,” a statement from the white house states also declaring:
“Regional prosperity depends on security. We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea".
"We call on all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means”.
Together with bilateral deals between US and Japan and even trilateral deals including India puts powerful China in-between a rock and hard place and America’s friends as the US demonstrates in global super power in friendships.
The hug between Obama and Modi wasn’t going to be the last one.
Obama was the first American president to visit India twice. Modi also visited America twice. The two ended up meeting staggering eight times in only two years. Not long time ago, such friendship was unlikely.
Former American diplomat and ambassador Dennis Klux called US and India “estranged democracies”.
And former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright cited a former Indian Ambassador saying Indo-US ties exhibited "a pattern of misunderstanding, miscalculations, and missed opportunities”. Another former US secretary of State Henry Kissinger described it as “the never-never land of India-US relations”.
Later during his visit to India, Obama said: "Given India's strategic location, we can advance our shared security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. When India and the US work together, both our countries, and the world, are more secure and prosperous.”
US and India relations was going to be a “defining” partnership of the 21st centaury. Whether Donald Trump is going to break protocol to embrace Modi is up for question, but maybe he should.
For US, India could become an important ally to control China.
For India, US is a helping hand through trade and cooperation. For the rest of the Asian region, the newly-forged friendship is a game changer.
Emil Staulund Larsen (24) er journaliststuderende på 8. semester på Danmarks Medie- og Journalisthøjskole (DMJX) i Århus. Her er han på et hold med fokus på international journalistik (Europe in the World). Var i praktik hos Nyhedsmagasinet Danske Kommuner og HK/Privat efter at have indledt studiet i 2013 og venter at være færdig til sommer.
Analysen er en skoleopgave i faget 'Foreign Policy', hvor eleverne lærer at skrive nyhedsanalyser.