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India link in Obama treasury

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 23.11.08

Washington, Nov. 22: It may not have been Barack Obama’s intention, but by zeroing in on Timothy Geithner as his choice for treasury secretary, the incoming US President has inadvertently set the stage for continuing a vigorous Indo-US economic engagement put in place over eight years.

Geithner spent his childhood in India, where his father, Peter, was the Ford Foundation’s deputy representative for India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He had his elementary schooling in Delhi and the family lived in New Friends Colony.

Asia has made an indelible impact on the Geithner family: after his years in Delhi, the next US treasury secretary grew up in Thailand, China and Japan when the elder Geithner was executing the Ford Foundation’s Asia programmes for 28 years. The family also lived in East Africa with its solid India links.

With 100 per cent of global growth likely to be confined to emerging economies this year and in 2009, India, China and Southeast Asia will equally compete for the next US treasury secretary’s attention as America tries to protect its place in the world economy.

Geithner is seen here as the man to carry forward Henry Kissinger’s vision of long-term business alliances with India.

Geithner’s first job after graduating from Dartmouth College and then earning a master’s degree in international economics and Asian studies from Johns Hopkins University was with Kissinger and Associates, a strategic consultancy firm founded by the iconic diplomat of the post-World War II era.

In 1975, despite his ideological revulsion for India’s nuclear test, Kissinger, one of America’s ultimate pragmatists to hold the job of secretary of state, requested the US Chamber of Commerce to take the lead in creating what is now the US-India Business Council, a key engine of Indo-US engagement.

From 1985 to 1988, Geithner did research on Asia at Kissinger and Associates. He was eminently qualified to do so with his fluency in both Japanese and Chinese and his academic work on East Asia.

As Geithner’s choice as a member of Obama’s incoming cabinet was all but formally announced yesterday, Kissinger told a New York newspaper that he was someone who “prevails with the power of his argument”.

Kissinger said elsewhere in June that Geithner “did such good work that I still have some of the papers, for another book I may write”.

Treasury officials who have got used to incumbent Henry Paulson’s unusual interest in snakes, tarantulas, and coral reefs will have a new boss who, too, has pet obsessions. Geithner’s mother Deborah told the Dartmouth College student newspaper last month “he turned our bathroom in Bangkok into a darkroom”.