Editorial

The effect of US-India chemistry

American President Barack Obama's visit to New Delhi, where he was chief guest at India's Republic Day celebrations last week, signified the evolution of a bilateral relationship that will influence the wider course of Asia's economic and strategic well-being. Those crucial bilateral ties had flagged in recent years as the United States and India were distracted by foreign and domestic events that impinged on their immediate concerns. However, the personal chemistry between Mr Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, apparent during their meetings, has created a new momentum for relations between their two countries.

Admittedly, gaps remain in the relationship. Attempts to narrow differences over Indian laws that inhibit the sales of American nuclear fuel and reactors were not conclusive. A solid common front against climate change was not forged. India's economic reforms, encouraged by its international partners, including the US, await Mr Modi's determined hand. Mr Obama drew attention as well to India's need to do more to protect women's and girls' rights, and to uphold the religious tolerance associated with the country's founding principles.

However, the amity with which these issues were addressed suggests that these are differences among friends. Both leaders appear to have invested their personal credibility in a new relationship of trust.

The resilience of that trust will affect the trajectory of broader Asian relations. The United States remains the pre-eminent global power even in an age characterised by the resurgence of China, the reassertion of Russian power, and other developments that reaffirm the presence of a multipolar world order which is here to stay. Yet, America cannot manage the fractious world alone. To do so, it needs to strike a balance of interests with regional countries which can ensure a degree of stability in their surrounding precincts, much as Washington seeks to stabilise the global commons as a whole.

India's emergence on the global stage marks a transitional moment in international politics when a regional power is impelled to play a larger role to buttress the global order. Mr Modi's desire for an external role for India, commensurate with its domestic strengths, fits in with America's need for partners. Indian partnership would help to give substance to the American pledge of a pivot to Asia.

China's measured response to the Indo-US rapprochement implies that such developments do not have to occur at its expense. The Sino-American relationship is not a secondary function of any other, including the Indo-American one. The world is large enough to accommodate the interests of its most powerful players.