Narendra Modi, A Modern Master Of Frenemy Diplomacy
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's triumph during his state visit to the U.S. is part of a well-honed strategy of realpolitik and geo-economic opportunism. How the West responds says a lot about where the world is heading.
PARIS — In 2005, before becoming India's prime minister, Narendra Modi was refused a visa to enter the U.S. He was then the leader of Gujarat, an Indian state that was the scene of large-scale violence against Muslims, and Modi was accused of complicity through inaction.
Now, 18 years later, Prime Minister Modi has been granted a state visit to Washington, complete with grandeur, a red carpet and the rare privilege of speaking to both houses of Congress. Revenge is sweet!
In the meantime, the world has changed. India has become the most populous country on the planet, and above all, is presenting itself as a strategic alternative to China. This geopolitical context explains the special attention paid to this visit.
In three weeks, Modi will be the guest of honor at France's Bastille Day celebrations on July 14 in Paris. In France, debates surrounding his visit to the U.S. are quite similar to those we'll inevitably see soon in France.
A Western ally?
How do you deal with a country that is so large, with such a rich past, considerable assets and an attractive strategic position, but which also displays the face of intolerant nationalism and worrying populism? The U.S., like France, has solved this dilemma by turning a blind eye — that's realpolitik.
The war in Ukraine revealed India's flexible position.
This does not mean that India has become a Western ally. The war in Ukraine revealed India's flexible position. It has not condemned the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a country that has long equipped the Indian army. Instead, India has increased purchases of Russian fuel at cut-rate prices, thus reducing the impact of Western sanctions on Russia.
India is in fierce rivalry with China. The two countries have an unresolved border dispute, and India is also welcoming investments from Western companies that seek to reduce their Chinese risk. Apple, for example, has made India its second iPhone manufacturing base after China, so as not to be dependent on a single country.
U.S. President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and First Lady Jill Biden heading to a dinner in the White House on June 22 as part of Modi's U.S. visit.
Friendships of convenience
India's Foreign Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has employed the concept of "frenemies." This sums up India's opportunistic diplomacy, in which it doesn't seek to join a camp, but rather to build its own strategic autonomy, according to its interests.
For all that, Joe Biden's welcome to Narendra Modi is that of an ally, which India is not.
Nor are the arms sales that are due to be signed between the two countries, and in particular the sale of spy drones — rarely offered by the Americans. Aiming to contain China, a priority for Washington, India is a key player, and everyone is choosing to turn a blind eye to the ugly truth.
Paris goes even further: France has the advantage of being both a Western country and not necessarily aligned with Washington. This explains the military exchanges, possible Indian military purchase of the French Rafale fighter jets and cooperation in the civil nuclear sector.
Does this mean we should keep quiet about the authoritarian excesses of Modi's Hindu nationalism? In theory, no. But U.S. President Joe Biden is being criticized in Washington for doing the bare minimum to avoid offending his host. The same criticism will surely be leveled at French President Emmanuel Macron next month.
Yes, we are living in an era where realpolitik reigns supreme.
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