Indian PM Visits Amid Worries Over U.S.-China Ties

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be the guest Tuesday at President Obama's first White House state dinner. Arvind Sumbramanian, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says Singh's visit comes amid fears in India that its relationship with the U.S. is playing second fiddle to U.S. ties with China.


Tomorrow, the Obama White House will host its first state dinner with another key player in the region, the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh. That country has had a long and complicated relationship with the U.S. It's a nuclear power and an economic powerhouse and also a bitter rival of neighboring Pakistan, whose support is crucial to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

For more on Prime Minister Singh's visit to Washington, we're joined by Arvind Subramanian. He is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN (Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics): Thanks for having me, Michele.

NORRIS: I'm curious about what you think Prime Minister Singh hopes to achieve with this visit to Washington. It seemed that stakes are rather high.

Mr. SUBRAMANIAN: I think that the most important thing from India's point of view perhaps, Michele, is that it feels that it's relationship with the U.S. is kind of playing second fiddle to the United States relationship with China. Now, especially after this historic nuclear deal that the United States and India signed, that was really a high point in the relationship. And now, with that behind us, there's a sense that there isn't that much important going on between the two countries. And President Obama's visit to China, where a number of things were said which slightly disconcerted the Indians and made them feel that, you know, maybe this relationship isn't as strong as it ought to be.

NORRIS: The Obama administration has taken the view that it can achieve much more on a number of things - climate change, monetary policy, even curbing terrorism�


NORRIS: �by taking a multilateral approach. And in order to do that, the U.S. needs India. So, in that regard, is India coming here to the U.S. from a position of power?

Mr. SUBRAMANIAN: Absolutely. I think, for example, on a number of issues like, you know, climate change, for example, that's an issue where, you know, the U.S. and India have not exactly seen eye to eye. But then it's equally clear that any global agreement will require cooperation between the U.S., China and also India because India is actually a big emitter of CO2. On that issue, I think, India is a key player. Even on what is now called AfPak, but actually the broader South Asia region, I think India and the United States have a lot of shared objectives, even if they may disagree on tactics and what to be done in the short run.

NORRIS: Interesting the timing there because this week is the one year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai�


NORRIS: �and which we later learned were planned by militants based in Pakistan.


NORRIS: How does Prime Minister Singh envision India's role in the war on terror?

Mr. SUBRAMANIAN: I think there are number of things going on here. First of all, there is a sense in Pakistan, or the sense that's been conveyed by Pakistan to the United States that if it has to go after the Taliban and the militants within Pakistan, then it will need help from India because a lot of Indian troops are stationed at Pakistan's eastern border. So, the Pakistani military establishment is keen to convey the impression that unless there is some help as it were from India, say solving the Kashmir issue, Pakistan will not be able to combat the terrorist threat it faces internally.

But that's something that India doesn't buy into because the feeling is that if Pakistan were to recognize that its fundamental problem is actually an internal one, from the Taliban and terrorism, rather than an external one from India, then it's more likely that here Pakistan will find the will to combat terrorism. But then there is also Afghanistan because India now has a big presence in Afghanistan and is providing support to the Karzai government.

And I think that's why Prime Minister Singh said today it's very important for the United States to show patience and stamina to stay in the region because if the U.S. pulls out, the fear is that the Taliban, the terrorists, will once again take hold and that will be a problem, not just for India and for Pakistan, but for the world as a whole.

NORRIS: He is often described - Prime Minister Singh is often described as a very quite man. He is an economist by training. He is quite an accomplished economist. On issues of trade, is that where you would expect him to roar?

Mr. SUBRAMANIAN: I think, yes. He - because he - in fact, his Ph.D. thesis was on India's exports. So, I think trade is a matter dear to his heart. And I think partly that's why, you know, India has been now negotiating a series of free trade agreements with a lot of Asian countries: Singapore, Korea, ASEAN. It's negotiating a partnership agreement with China, the European Union and also with Canada. So, I think trade is something that he is very keen on to promote for India's sake, yes.

NORRIS: Arvind Subramanian, thank you very much for coming in to talk to us.

Mr. SUBRAMANIAN: Thanks for having me, Michele.

NORRIS: Arvind Subramanian is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

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