New Delhi: A two plus two is a rather incomplete way of looking at and managing India-US relations. Since geo-economics has overtaken geopolitics in the shaping of the world order, it stands to reason that economics and trade should constitute critical components of US-India dialogues. Indeed, it may be argued that trade and commerce has relegated orthodox diplomacy and military relations to third and fourth places. The United States understands this perfectly because its president is a hardnosed businessman. India has gone backward under Narendra Modi by obsessing with the military at the cost of even diplomacy. You might indeed be forgiven for asking if India has a full-time foreign minister for all that Sushma Swaraj has been permitted to contribute towards active foreign policy-making with Major and middle powers.

The supremacy of geo-economics is amply demonstrated by the pickle Xi Jinping is in after Donald Trump commenced prosecuting the trade war against China. The Caixin/ Markit Purchasing Manager’s Index for China has touched a fourteen-month low in August. Overall confidence in the Chinese market is low, employment is falling, and both input and output costs for companies have risen. All this is directly attributed to Trump’s trade war. This is in addition to the major hits that China’s currency and stock markets have suffered in consequence of Trump’s protectionist measures.

All at once the previously “infallible” Xi Jinping is being questioned for competence and vision and the Chinese communist party is alarmed to a degree to reflect upon its own standing among the Chinese. Abroad among the nations to have received the “benefit of China’s friendship”, alarm looms at the debt trap that the Belt and Road Initiative has sprung on them. Misfortune comes in threes. It’s proved true for China. Without the trade war, Xi was unstoppable in Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, in Eurasia riding on the hype of BRI, and it would have established Xi on a par with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping and possibly even above them. Unless Xi bows to the United States, he faces ruin. That is the power of geo-economics, and Donald Trump has proved master of the game.

There are lessons here and cautionary principles which India refuses to recognize. As the two plus two dialogue looms ahead, there are insouciant leaks to the press that the S-400 deal is a fait accompli. The Indian military might think nothing of US secondary sanctions but any sort of sanction will kill the Indian growth story already wounded by demonetization and an ill-planned and extortionate GST. If anyone has doubts, they should check the economic meltdown of Iran as the first shocks of the US sanctions due in November spread terror through the country. Likewise, crippled by US and West European sanctions, Russia has tilted so much towards China as to risk its balance. And Donald Trump has not spared America’s Western allies. He has threatened to isolate Canada and cut off NATO funding unless the other NATO states contribute their share of collective security. One by one, the targeted countries are falling in line.

Why, then, should India imagine that Donald Trump will treat it differently, and perhaps leniently? What, in truth, can India offer to Trump? Nothing in geopolitics or geo-economics. India is not in a position to support the United States’ bid for geopolitical containment of China. India cannot send troops to assist the beleaguered American forces in Afghanistan. India can play no role in the Middle East that could even remotely assist American foreign policy. India is not a technology leader of any standing. With the rupee in unstoppable decline, it is a joke to call the Indian economy a powerhouse. This being the state of affairs, what is there for India to bargain at the two plus two? Donald Trump would be interested in free trade but the prospect of it frightens the country and in particular Narendra Modi who has taken the country backward with obsessive high taxes. In any event, two plus two does not cover trade and commerce, which is what really engages Donald Trump.

With India’s economic and technological challenges growing, it is wise to keep the United States on a friendly footing and stay away from toxic engagements with Russia and China. Inviting Donald Trump for Republic Day on one hand and challenging the United States on the other are not a rational way of conducting foreign policy. India is not a Major Power to afford brinkmanship, and even Major Powers are wilting under the heat of US trade and sanctions policies. It is time India gets real about its place in the world.