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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Sunday, February 18, 2018

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An anxious Xi shall watch closely with the rest of Asia as Modi meets The Donald

Modi and Trump exchanged warm tweets

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WASHINGTON, U.S. - As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - who once touted his special friendship with former U.S. President Barack Obama - now sets out to meet Donald Trump, all of Asia has its eyes and ears hooked on this meeting.> BNN
With a lot on the agenda that will define the new nature of Indo-U.S. ties, Modi and Trump exchanged warm tweets ahead of their meeting scheduled on Monday, even as the growing anxiety in China was revealed in the form of warnings to both India and the U.S. to stay away from contentious issues including the South China Sea.
While the White House visit allows leaders to build personal rapport - it is less certain to produce significant progress on issues such as immigration.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted from his presidential Twitter account, “Look forward to welcoming India's PM Modi to @WhiteHouse on Monday. Important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend!"
The Indian leader responded after he landed in Washington, thanked Trump on Twitter for "the warm personal welcome.”
Modi said, “Greatly look forward to my meeting and discussions with you."
During the White House visit, Indian Prime Minister Modi is expected to seek assurances from Trump on the defense technology and trade initiative that facilitates U.S. arms technology transfers to India.
He is also likely to lobby Trump on visas for technology workers in a bid to address the fundamental differences between the two nations on issues including the H-1B visas that is used by many Indian IT companies.
The Paris climate accord, which India supports and Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from is also likely to come up.
Earlier this month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement that Trump was looking forward to advancing common priorities on fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth, and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Recently, Eurasia Group analysts Shailesh Kumar and Sasha Riser-Kositsky warned in a note, “There is a palpable fear in New Delhi that the new U.S. president's lack of focus on India, and limited appointment of South Asia focused advisers, has resulted in India falling off the radar in Washington.”
Analysts said that the two leaders are also likely to discuss Pakistan and regional terrorism as Trump's administration is formulating a new South Asia policy and the U.S. President could take a tougher stance on giving military aid to Pakistan as he eyes broader budget cuts.
Eurasia analysts wrote, "However, contrary to India's long-held desire, the U.S. will not label Pakistan a state sponsor of terror.”
Indian defense ministry sources have said that the Indian leader will attempt to advance discussions on buying 100 armed Predator drones made by California-based General Atomics, and getting U.S. help with India's plans for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Separately, a General Atomics official confirmed that a sale of unarmed patrol drones has been approved ahead of Modi's arrival.
Officials from both the countries also believe that the two leaders may pledge deeper defense cooperation, while also discussing a harder line on Pakistan, terrorism in South Asia, and China's role in the region. 
On Saturday, reports quoted a White House official as saying that the U.S. seeks to treat India as a major defense partner, like other close allies.
The official said that Trump and Modi have spoken twice on the phone, insisting that the new president has not ignored India. He added that Monday's meeting will help deepen Trump's strategic understanding of the country.
Meanwhile, Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings India said, “I would expect a brief, friendly meeting that sets the right tone, but without a lot of detail or substance.”
Other experts meanwhile believe that despite a $66 billion trading relationship - that is India's second-largest - Trump's "America First" rhetoric may make it difficult for him to find common ground with a prime minister prioritising a parallel "Make in India" campaign. 
Both leaders are trying to boost domestic manufacturing in order to create jobs.
Ian Hall, acting director of the Griffith Asia Institute in Australia explained, "You've got a clash of economic nationalisms going on. It's very hard to see Modi and Trump having much in common, other than having the desire to appear strong to domestic audiences."
Reports in the U.S. meanwhile stated that the country’s lawmakers from both parties were urging Trump to push India to drop restrictions on trade and investment. 
A letter to Trump signed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, the ranking Democrat on the committee Richard Neal, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, and the panel's top Democrat Ron Wyden read, “Only through concrete actions that remove actual barriers to trade and investment can the U.S.-India economic relationship flourish.”
Trump's other priorities, from Syria, China and Russia to domestic issues including immigration, health care and investigations into his administration, have fueled the impression among India-watchers that New Delhi is not on Trump's radar. 
In what came as the first sign of nervousness from China about how the dynamics of India-U.S. relationship will change under Trump - China asked India and the U.S. to stay away from the South China Sea.
Beijing said that it was closely watching the developments around the first Modi-Trump meeting and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang warned India and the U.S. not to disturb "peace and stability in the South China Sea."
Shuang said, "With concerted efforts of China and ASEAN countries the situation there is cooling down. We hope other countries especially non-regional countries can respect the efforts by the regional countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and can play a constructive role in this Regard."
Meanwhile, last week, Washington unofficially signalled that top Trump economic aide Kenneth Juster would replace former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma, who stepped down before Trump's inauguration.
Modi is also expected to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

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