President Barack Obama announced $10 billion in business deals on Saturday as he arrived in India to boost U.S. exports and jobs after a mauling in mid-term polls, but he ran into immediate controversy over Pakistan.
Obama flew into Mumbai, India’s financial hub, and announced the United States would also relax export controls over sensitive technology, a demand of India’s that will help deepen U.S. ties with the emerging global power and its trillion dollar economy.
While most of the announced deals had been pending for months, Obama’s visit, the first leg of a 10-day Asian tour, has been hailed as moving the United States closer to India as Washington tries to revive a weak economy and gather support to pressure China on its currency.
“The United States sees Asia, especially India, as the market of the future,” Obama told a meeting of U.S. and Indian business leaders. “There still exists a caricature of India as a land of call centres and back-offices that cost American jobs. But these old stereotypes, these old concerns, ignore today’s realities.”
Obama’s first act was to pay tribute to victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but he was criticised for making no reference to India’s traditional foe Pakistan, which New Delhi blames for harbouring anti-India militants.
Pakistan-based militants killed 166 people in a 60-hour rampage through India’s financial hub, gunning down their victims at luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre. India says elements in the Pakistan state were behind the attacks.
“We visit here to send a very clear message,” Obama said after meeting victims’ families at the luxury sea-front Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the iconic landmark where TV images showing it in flames after battles between militants and commandos came to symbolise the massacre.
Saturday’s Taj speech highlighted the diplomatic test for Obama. Indians want a strong statement against Pakistan for fostering militants, but Washington must tread a fine line between appeasing New Delhi and supporting U.S. regional ally Islamabad.
But Obama’s trip is also about business, with China now ahead of the United States in trade with India.
The $10 billion in deals will support 54,000 jobs in the United States, White House aide Michael Froman said.
The White House also announced Obama would support India’s membership of four global non-proliferation organisations, a move that will reassure New Delhi — left out of these groups after its 1998 nuclear tests — that Washington is recognising its global clout.