India, US: Towards a stronger partnership | Sunday Observer

India, US: Towards a stronger partnership

9 July, 2023
Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding talks with US President Joe Biden
Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding talks with US President Joe Biden

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington was considered one of the most significant political events that the year 2023 witnessed amid careful and attentive observations by political analysts.

The visit added a fresh dimension to the ever-changing global political landscape as India forged closer ties with the United States of America than in the past. India’s support base is crucial for the United States as the Chinese presence looms closer to the US with its presence in the Caribbean Islands and Cuba, Newsweek said its June 16 edition.

The worldwide nature of US-China rivalry has been thrust back into the spotlight after Biden administration officials said a Chinese electronic eavesdropping station was being run out of neighbouring Cuba since at least 2019—an allegation denied by Havana and Beijing.

Whatever the case in Cuba, China’s presence in other Caribbean states dotted on the threshold of the United States has been growing rapidly, just as Beijing has expanded its reach around the world using overt and covert diplomacy, trade, aid, and investment under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“China’s activities in Latin America and the Caribbean fit into the Communist Party’s global economic and military framework. Communist Party leaders have made two important things clear in their overall strategy: China must be prepared to fight and win wars, and they will expand their military to safeguard the ceaseless expansion of their overseas interests,” said Jonathan Ward, author of The Decisive Decade: American Grand Strategy for Triumph Over China.

Economic and military project

“Beijing has demonstrated that the BRI is both an economic and military project. China’s trade with Latin American nations has burgeoned over the past two decades, and the Caribbean is an area where relatively small amounts of capital can purchase significant influence,” Ward told Newsweek.

Countries from the Bahamas to Barbados and Jamaica to Trinidad and Tobago have all been among the major beneficiaries of Chinese loans and investments that total tens of billions of dollars. The U.S. Government said it was monitoring Chinese investments in dual-use infrastructure in the Western Hemisphere and would continue to mitigate security risks. China has been making steady inroads into the region as it seeks to rebalance the post-war global status quo, under which America has enjoyed a permanent presence deep in the Western Pacific—including on China’s own doorstep—for decades.

Though Prime Minister Modi’s visit was overshadowed by the Titan submersible tragedy in the world media, the visit did not lose its weight and relevance on the global political platform. One salient point that the two major countries from the Northern and Southern hemispheres have in common is the democratic ideals they have cherished for years.

The political equation that is critically important for the United States is India’s assumed departure from the Russian orbit. It devises its own political trajectory as an emerging global superpower that has carved a niche as the fifth largest economy in the world.

Prime Minister Modi’s address to the joint session of the US Congress has gathered momentum to ascertain whether Premier Modi has actually distanced himself from Russia. This hangs in the balance since they have plenty of trade deals between the two countries that shape both countries’ economies.

If India distances itself from Russia, it will comfort the United States. This is at a time when the US and its allies are intensifying their campaign against Russia in defence of Ukraine. Prime Minister Modi’s address was largely seen as a way to demonstrate India’s commitment to its relationship with the US. His innuendos about detaching India from Russia were seen as a show of support for the US and its allies in their efforts against Russia. If India distances itself from Russia, it would also give the US a strategic advantage by weakening the Russian economy.

According to the Hindu newspaper, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a joint session of the US Congress where he, in agreement with US President Joe Biden, called the India-US relationship “a defining partnership” of the 21st century. The Prime Minister also talked about democracy’s virtues, the ties between India and the United States, and India’s economic and development trajectory. He also touched on global concerns, such as the Ukraine war and the Indo-Pacific situation. Premier Modi’s hour-long speech was heard by a packed chamber and received several standing ovations.

Digitisation of economy

“Democracy is one of our sacred and shared values,” the Prime Minister said as he referred to India as the “mother of democracy”. In his second address to Congress (his first address was in June 2016), he talked about the digitisation of the Indian economy and claimed that India would soon be the third-largest economy in the world. “When India grows, the world grows as well,” Modi said. He depicted India’s development as led by women and a blend of ancient values and modern capabilities, such as technology.

“Be it creative reels on Instagram or real-time payments, coding, or quantum computing, the youth of India are an excellent example of how a society can embrace the latest technology,” the Prime Minister said.

On the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Premier Modi said the world order was based on respect for the United Nations Charter, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the peaceful resolution of disputes. “War has returned to Europe. It is causing serious pain in the region,” he said, adding that the Global South was particularly impacted. “As I have said directly and publicly, this is not an era of war. But it is one of dialogue and diplomatic outreach,” Modi said. “And we all must do what we can to stop the bloodshed and human suffering,” he added.

Referring to the other issue of interest to the US and India, namely, China’s transgressions in Asia, the Indian Prime Minister said: “The dark clouds of coercion and confrontation are casting their shadows in the Indo-Pacific. The stability of the region has become one of the central concerns of our partnership.”

On China’s threat to maritime security and to the security of other countries, Premier Modi said, again without naming China: “We share a vision of a free, open, and inclusive Indo Pacific, connected by secure seas, defined by international law, free from dominance, and anchored in ASEAN centrality, a region where all nations, small and large, are free and fearless in their choices, where progress is not suffocated by impossible burdens of debt, where connectivity is not leveraged for strategic purposes, where all nations are lifted by the high tide of shared prosperity.”

Cooperative region

To make it clear that India does not seek to contain China, but only to rein it in, Modi said, again without naming China, “Our vision does not seek to contain or exclude, but to build a cooperative region of peace and prosperity.”

He saw a role for the Quad Alliance (India, Japan, Australia, US) in this task: “We work through regional institutions and with our partners within the region and beyond. Because of this, Quad has emerged as a major force for good in the region.”

Prime Minister Modi and US President Joe Biden spoke with reporters after bilateral talks at the White House—a rare press briefing by the Indian leader.

“Our discussions today and the key decisions we have taken have added an exciting chapter to our comprehensive and global strategic partnership,” Prime Minister Modi told the reporters.

Besides working more closely together on emerging technologies such as quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence, and Green Energy, President Biden said the two countries are “growing our major defence partnership with more joint exercises, more cooperation between our defence industries, and more consultation and coordination across all domains.”

Prime Minister Modi hailed a “landmark agreement” between General Electric and India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to co-produce jet engines in India, a type used in aircraft such as the F/A-18 Super Hornet and India’s Tejas Mk2. The companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding during his visit.

India also signed a pact with General Atomics to obtain MQ-9B Predator-armed drones. This is intended to strengthen New Delhi’s surveillance and defence capabilities, especially along its troubled and long Himalayan border with China.

Answering questions from the media, Prime Minister Modi praised democracy’s virtues. “Democracy is in our DNA,” said the Indian Prime Minister, who rarely takes reporters’ questions. He insisted that there was no room for discrimination within the portals of his Government, as alleged by the Opposition in India.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist.