Biden, Modi to deepen US-India cooperation

U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to deepen defense and technology cooperation between their countries during Modi’s official visit to the White House, despite lingering concerns about human rights in India.

Two days of carefully orchestrated official events had a rocky start on Wednesday afternoon, however, when Modi was so late to a planned tour of the National Science Foundation that the president’s wife Jill Biden, a teacher, started without him.

Modi arrived about 30 minutes after the scheduled start of the tour and apologized to her. Later on Wednesday, Modi is scheduled to have a private dinner with the Bidens at the White House. Modi will attend a state dinner on Thursday night.

Washington wants India to be a strategic counterweight to China and sees India as a critical partnership. Modi is seeking to raise the influence that India, the world’s most populous country at 1.4 billion, has on the world stage.

When the U.S. sees challenges to press, religious or other freedoms, “we make our views known,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “We do so in a way where we don’t seek to lecture or assert that we don’t have challenges ourselves,” he said.

Biden and Modi will deliver remarks and take questions from journalists on Thursday, the White House said. Human rights may be a topic at the press conference.

It is unusual for Modi to take questions from the media, beyond occasional interviews. He has not addressed a single press conference in India since becoming prime minister about nine years ago. In May 2019, he attended a press conference in India but never took questions.

While Biden is expected to raise U.S. concerns about democratic backsliding in India under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the issues will be decided by Indians themselves and not the United States, Sullivan said.

Among the expected business agreements were those in artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and investments in India by Micron Technology and other U.S. companies.

At his event with Jill Biden, Modi invited American students to come to India and said he was happy to meet “young and creative minds” as soon as he arrived in Washington. Modi said India was training students in AI and had started labs across the country.

More than 200,000 Indian students were studying in the United States as of last year, according to the White House.

CALLS FOR HIGHER PROFILE FOR RIGHTS ISSUES

Modi has been to the United States five times since becoming prime minister in 2014, but the trip will be his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit.

Biden is under pressure by his fellow Democrats to discuss human rights with Modi. Modi is expected to be warmly greeted by U.S. CEOs, including at a Friday reception. On Tuesday he met with Tesla (TSLA.O) chief Elon Musk in New York.

Rights advocates on Wednesday said Biden should publicly call out Modi’s human rights record, saying the approach of U.S. administrations of raising issues in private with the Indian leader has not stemmed what they described as deteriorating human rights in India.

“It has not worked,” Zaki Barzinji, who served in the Obama administration as the White House liaison to religious minorities, said at a press conference in Washington organized by Indian-American civil rights and interfaith organizations.

Rights groups plan to protest during Modi’s visit.

‘SUBTLE SHIFT’ ON RUSSIA

Both Biden and Modi are grappling with Beijing’s flexing its muscle in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

“This visit is not about China. But the question of China’s role in the military domain, the technology domain, the economic domain will be on the agenda,” Sullivan said.

New Delhi, which often prizes its non-alignment in conflicts between great powers abroad, has frustrated Washington by maintaining some defense and economic ties with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

Biden will bring up Russia and Ukraine ahead of the G20 summit later this year that will be held in India, Sullivan said.

A senior State Department official said there had been a “subtle shift” in India’s approach to Russia since Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin in September that “today’s era is not an era of war.”

Other Indian officials had challenged Russia for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity and over rhetoric on nuclear weapons in recent months, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

On Thursday, Biden and Modi will make announcements on the “co-development and co-production of military systems, including some very advanced systems,” said the official, describing this as part of a broader move by India to buy weapons from other sources than traditional supplier Moscow.

Washington accepts that India will continue buying Russian oil, as long as it does so “at rock bottom prices” below a price cap agreed by developed nations, the official added.

Reuters

Leave a Reply