No Trade Deal Was Announced On Day 2 Of Trump's India Trip
NOEL KING, HOST:
President Trump is finishing up a two-day visit to India. Yesterday, he talked to a crowd of more than 100,000 people at what was billed as a "Namaste, Trump" rally in Gujarat state. And today, he's in New Delhi, which is also where NPR's Lauren Frayer is. Hey, Lauren.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.
KING: So yesterday was about pageantry. What happened today. Did anything get done in terms of diplomacy or...
FRAYER: So there was a lot of speculation about a possible trade deal. It's been nearly two years since the U.S. and India started slapping these tariffs on some imports from one another, and President Trump today cited tremendous advances towards solving that, but no deal. Instead, he said India signed a different deal to buy more than $3 billion of U.S. military equipment, including helicopters. But what was really interesting was something else Trump said when he and Modi, Prime Minister Modi, made statements to the press. Listen to this.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our two countries have always been united by shared traditions of democracy and constitutions that protect freedom, individual rights and the rule of law.
FRAYER: Now, let me tell you why it's significant that Trump mentioned India's Constitution. Prime Minister Modi has been facing nationwide protests over a new citizenship law which excludes Muslim refugees. Protesters say the law violates the secular values that are enshrined in India's constitution.
Now, Prime Minister Modi is a Hindu nationalist. He believes that India should be a Hindu nation with special rights for its roughly 80% Hindu majority, and that ideology is reflected in policy and things like the citizenship law. It makes minorities, though, nervous. And riots have erupted across the country over this. In fact, several people were killed in clashes yesterday in Delhi, hours before Trump arrived.
KING: So when we see President Trump stand on a stage with Modi, a Hindu nationalist, what is that telling us?
FRAYER: So much has been made of this sort of bromance between Trump and Modi. They held hands at this stadium rally yesterday in Modi's home state. There was "Howdy, Modi" rally last year in Houston...
FRAYER: ..."Namaste, Trump" here - a lot of pageantry, as you mentioned. But Trump and Modi are both nationalists who have been accused of discriminating against minorities. And Modi was actually accused of inciting violence against Muslims in the early 2000s in his home state, where that rally was yesterday, so much so that the U.S., for many years, actually denied him a visa, until just before he became prime minister in 2014.
So Modi has this checkered background, and that might be why he and Modi - he and Trump did not take a single question today. Modi is sort of infamous for hardly ever taking open questions from the media. So Trump will actually do so solo about an hour from now.
KING: And part of the reason that President Trump is there is that India is becoming more important to the United States. Can you explain the context here? It's always been a big country. For many years, it's had a booming economy. Why now is it so important?
FRAYER: That's right. So India has a tremendous strategic and growing importance. The U.S. is looking at India as a buffer to China's growing power in the Indo-Pacific. And by the way, India shares that concern. India has a 2,000-mile border with China. There have been scuffles there in the past.
And to put this to - helicopter, military equipment purchase in perspective, the U.S. and India basically had no military ties until about 25 years ago. And the U.S. has been pushing India to buy more U.S. weapons, and that's what we saw today. And that may be why, you know, in the past, U.S. criticism of India's human rights record and minority rights has tended to be discreet, and that's why it's significant that Trump mentioned that today in his public remarks.
KING: Today. NPR's Lauren Frayer in New Delhi. Thanks.
FRAYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.