An Eye on the Future of India-US Relations

Frank Wisner [L] in conversation with Arun Kumar [R]
Frank Wisner [L] in conversation with Arun Kumar [R]

Asia Society India Centre welcomed Arun Kumar, Chairman and CEO, KPMG in India and Ambassador Frank Wisner, International Affairs Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs, LLP, and former U.S. Ambassador to India for a riveting discussion on the future of India-U.S. relations following the Modi-Trump meet in Washington in June.

Mr. Kumar, who was Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service in the Obama administration, set the context by recounting how the India-U.S. relationship had progressed under President Obama. The relationship had advanced as both governments had given it priority, with a greater number of strategic dialogues and deals taking place – for example, a contract worth approximately Rs. 14,000 crore was signed with General Electric (GE) in 2015 to set up a locomotive factory in Bihar. Mr. Kumar also noted how India-U.S. ties transcend the governments – there are significant business and people-to-people ties as well.

Ambassador Wisner then took to the stage to discuss the background against which President Trump came to power. Noting that Trump does not come from a traditionally political background, Mr. Wisner remarked that he has a disruptive style (by intention) and that his campaign rhetoric was responsible in large part for his winning. There are several aspects of Obama’s legacy that Trump is unhappy with and wishes to modify; at the same time the administration has also sent out a strong message that the U.S. government will act to protect the interests of the country if threatened. Whilst surprised by the polarization of the country (reflected in the election results) and of Congress, Mr. Wisner noted that U.S. institutions continue to be very strong.

Shifting to the Modi-Trump meet, Mr. Wisner noted that it had several positive outcomes and signalled a good, solid start to the relationship, giving it a strategic direction. He also spoke at length about the importance of furthering the relationship, noting that a strong India was good for the US. Mr. Wisner then fielded questions from the audience ranging from immigration policy (the future of the policy is still uncertain, and the legislative agenda is already full with healthcare at the moment) to LNG trade (a good thing which must continue to be built).

Reported by: Ishani Shukla, Programme Assistant, Asia Society India Centre