Donald Trump Jr. Retreats From Foreign Policy on India Trip

A newspaper bearing an image of Donald Trump Jr. in New Delhi.

NEW DELHI — After days of controversy over whether he would blur the lines between American foreign policy and his family’s real estate business during a trip to India to sell condos, Donald Trump Jr. on Friday abandoned plans to give a policy speech and instead gave an interview with an Indian journalist, sticking to safe topics.

His remarks in the interview — about his father’s successful 2016 presidential campaign, how little the family sees him now, and India’s great entrepreneurial spirit — were so anodyne that when the Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan entered the room near the end of the interview, people lifted their phones to take photos of the actor and stopped paying attention to the oldest child of America’s president.

“I’m here as a businessman,” Mr. Trump told a crowd of about 2,000 business and political leaders, who were gathered for the annual business conference hosted by India’s most powerful media company, The Times Group. “I’m not representing anyone.”

But his efforts to distance himself from administration policy were met with some skepticism.

“Though he claims that it’s not an official speech, we take it as an official statement,” said P. V. Sunil, a managing director of a company that builds malls and cinema complexes in India and Singapore. “He speaks to his father more than anyone here.”

Mr. Trump has spent the last week in India promoting new luxury housing projects in the country, the biggest foreign market for Trump real estate interests outside of North America.

He originally intended to give a speech Friday on “Indo-Pacific” cooperation, a policy idea recently championed by President Trump as a counterweight to China’s rising influence. That sparked an uproar, underscoring how the Trump family, with some members working in the White House and others running the family business, has obscured the traditional line between public and private interests.

Ethicists and former government officials with both major political parties have raised concerns that foreign-policy decisions made by the White House could affect the Trump Organization’s business prospects, and in turn, the president’s wealth. Although the president has turned over management of the company to Donald Trump Jr. and another son, Eric Trump, he still holds a huge financial interest in Trump projects around the world.

Two organizers of Friday’s conference said that they had proposed the Indo-Pacific topic to Donald Trump Jr.’s team and that he had agreed to address it. On Thursday, after criticism by ethicists and a Democratic senator, Mr. Trump requested that the topic be changed, they said.

Shortly after Mr. Trump’s interview, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, gave his own keynote speech about India’s economic progress.

Mr. Trump has downplayed ethical concerns during his India visit, saying the company’s promise not to seek new foreign projects during his father’s presidency had hurt its business.

Eric Trump said in an interview on Friday that the criticism of his brother was unfair and unjustified. He said that although he was not involved in the discussions regarding his brother’s speech, there was nothing wrong with the original topic.

“We have been doing business in India for many years,” he said. “I don’t understand the problem with celebrating the camaraderie between two great countries.”

During his onstage interview, Donald Trump Jr. went out of his way to suggest that the Trumps do not mix politics and business, even when they all get together.

“We see him so little that it’s really about being a family,” he said of his father. “We don’t talk politics.”

Donald Trump Jr. was deeply involved in his father’s campaign, meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised political dirt on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate. That meeting, and how Mr. Trump and the White House responded to public disclosure of it last July, are now being scrutinized by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In India, officials have struggled to understand what the Trump White House means for Indo-American relations.

“Under Trump, you cannot be sure the policy today will be the policy tomorrow,” said C. Raja Mohan, a foreign-policy analyst and director of Carnegie India. “That is a huge problem.”

India views some of the president’s evolving positions as favorable and others as less so.

His recent criticism of Pakistan as a haven for terrorists has been music to the ears of leaders in New Delhi, some of whom view that neighboring country in much the same way. The president has also signaled that he sees a more important role for India, along with other traditional American allies like Japan and Australia, in an Indo-Pacific grouping that would curb Beijing’s influence.

The Trump administration has strengthened military ties with New Delhi and discussed a flurry of defense agreements, including one that may see the F-16 fighter jet move its production line from Texas to India.

At the same time, there are significant tensions between the Modi government and the Trump administration on several critical issues, including immigration and trade policy.

In an effort to boost Indian manufacturing, the Modi government has raised tariffs on imported products like electronics and beauty products. India has also tangled with American drug companies over patent protections for their products. In 2017, the United States had a $23 billion trade deficit with India.

Indian immigrants are also a large segment of the work force of American technology companies. President Trump campaigned on curbing such immigration and has gradually tightened the rules governing the H-1B and other visas used by tech workers.

On Thursday, the administration announced rules that would make it harder for Indian outsourcers that have many corporate customers to bring workers to the United States and move them from site to site. Friday’s conference was in full swing as news spread of the administration’s latest move to restrict H-1B visas.

With the younger Mr. Trump, who has voiced strong support for his father’s tough stance on immigration, sitting in the audience, Uber’s chief executive officer, Dara Khosrowshahi, took a dig at the president.

“The American dream is the single most incredible brand in the world,” said Mr. Khosrowshahi, whose family immigrated from Iran. “I’m worried that the attitude this American administration has on immigration will ruin that brand.”

The journalist who interviewed Mr. Trump, Supriya Shrinate, pressed him on immigration, asking whether he thought it was fair that he could travel the world and invest in places like India, while the United States tightened immigration rules.

Mr. Trump dodged the question, before Ms. Shrinate finally asked: “Is the American dream still alive? A lot of people in this audience beg to differ.”

“I think 100 percent it is,” Mr. Trump said.

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