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Is Counterbalancing China The Reason For Trump’s Historic Visit To India?

Trump and Melania in India
President Trump’s historic visit to India was more than an Obama-style taxpayer-funded tourist trip; it was an opportunity to bring the country with the second largest population and the world’s fifth-ranking economy into our sphere of influence against Red China and to help curb the Islamist influence emanating from Pakistan and Iran.

During the trip the President announced that India will purchase over $3 billion in American military equipment for India’s armed forces. He also announced that, in cooperation with India, his administration is working to establish a strong, capable, and secure 5G network, which he said, “is essential to our mutual national security and preservation of human rights.”

In their joint statement, President Trump and PM Modi called upon countries in the region – like Pakistan and Iran – to take steps to counter terrorists in their own countries. They also announced that India and the United States are cooperating closely to defeat terrorism, counter the scourge of global drug trafficking, and promote freedom throughout the Indo-Pacific.

India is set to overtake China as the world's most populous country in less than a decade, according to a June 2019 CNN analysis of a United Nations report.

China and India currently account for about 37% of the entire global population of roughly 7.7 billion, with China currently home to about 1.4 billion people and India to 1.3 billion.

But by 2027, India will have more people than China, according to the UN's 2019 World Population Prospects report released Monday, and by 2050 the gap is expected to have widened even further.

However, India finds itself at a distinct disadvantage with China militarily.

According to the Business Standard, India's leading business daily, Prime Minister Modi’s ruling party is making his record on national security a key part of its campaign in an election that will conclude on May 23, with boasts of airstrikes against Pakistan and more than 80 trips abroad to cement India’s reputation as a rising economic power. His government refused to attend Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road infrastructure forum that kicked off Friday.

Yet for all that, claims the Business Standard, India has only fallen further behind China over the past five years. Beijing has continued to outspend India on defense, implemented sweeping reforms in its military and diplomatic structures, and built strategic infrastructure in India’s backyard -- not to mention providing arch-rival Pakistan with defense technology.

But India’s armed forces, while large, are underequipped and saddled with weapons that most consider “vintage” if not antique.

According to a March 2019 article in The New York Times, if intense warfare broke out tomorrow, India could supply its troops with only 10 days of ammunition, according to government estimates. And 68 percent of the army’s equipment is so old, it is officially considered “vintage.”

“Our troops lack modern equipment, but they have to conduct 21st-century military operations,” said Gaurav Gogoi, a lawmaker and member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense.

The sad state of India’s armed forces was brought home during a 2019 dogfight in which an Indian Air Force pilot clashed with a warplane from the Pakistani Air Force and ended up a prisoner behind enemy lines for a brief time.

The pilot made it home in one piece, however bruised and shaken, but the plane was less lucky; an aging Soviet-era MiG-21, it was no match for the US-built Pakistani F-16, the NYT reported.

American officials tasked with strengthening the alliance talk about their mission with frustration: a swollen bureaucracy makes arms sales and joint training exercises cumbersome; Indian forces are vastly underfunded; and the country’s navy, army and air force tend to compete rather than work together.

Whatever the problems, the United States is determined to make the country a key ally in the coming years to hedge against China’s growing regional ambition.

The American military began prioritizing its alliance with India as its close relationship with Pakistan soured over the last two decades. United States officials are concerned that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight terrorism, so, in just a decade, United States arms sales to India have gone from nearly zero to $15 billion.

However troubled its military, India holds an obvious strategic appeal to the United States by virtue of both its location and its size.

India will soon become the world’s most populous country, on track to surpass China by 2027. It shares a long border with southern and western China and controls important territorial waters Beijing needs for its maritime trade routes.

India is also the world’s most populous democracy and all that can help the United States try to box in its Communist Chinese rival.

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