President Joe Biden has made it a priority for the United States to establish friendships worldwide. The coming weeks will provide a dramatic indication of the significance he places on a relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Biden and Modi will attend this week’s Group of Seven summits in Japan. A future gathering of Pacific island leaders in Papua New Guinea and Indo-Pacific leaders meeting in Australia. Modi’s trip will be followed by a state visit to Washington on June 22. Indicating that both parties are eager to strengthen their ties.
But, as with many geopolitical alliances, things are tricky between the world’s largest economy (the United States) and its most populous country (India).
As both countries respond to China‘s economic ascent and rising global importance. The personal approach has a clear geopolitical rationale. However, Biden defends democratic ideas and openly opposes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Modi has voiced muted criticism of Russia, and critics claim he is undermining India’s democratic traditions.
That means the alliance’s future is dependent on patience.
“It’s a long game of steady forward movement in defence relations and some fairly rapid intensification of business ties — with the pace of both determined by the speed of movement on the Indian side,” said Kurt Tong, a former US ambassador who is now managing partner of the consultancy The Asia Group.
Last year, Biden publicly referred to India’s response to the Ukraine conflict as “shaky.” India did not vote on United Nations resolutions denouncing Russia and refused to join the global coalition against Russia. Modi had a good relationship with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, and has tried to connect with Biden, who is known to emphasize his Irish heritage even when meeting with leaders from other countries.
The United States and India have prioritised technology relationships in defence, clean energy, and space. During Modi’s June visit to the United States, the two leaders will likely discuss similar issues, such as climate change and health security.
Russia is India’s most significant military hardware supplier. However, India has reduced its reliance on Russian armaments by diversifying its imports, purchasing from the United States, France, Germany, and other countries. Defence trade between the United States and India increased from nearly nil in 2008 to more than $20 billion by 2020.
A Friendship with Risks
According to the Census Bureau, the United States imported approximately $86 billion in goods from India last year. This figure has continuously climbed, but there is still space for growth because the United States imports more items from Taiwan and Vietnam than India. With a population of over 1.4 billion people, India is over 14 times the size of Taiwan and Vietnam combined.
Biden has certain risks as he devotes more time to Modi, with human rights campaigners sceptical of the Indian leader’s track record. After Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, the freedom of the news media in India was threatened. Political opponents of Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party have accused him of limiting dissent and instituting divisive policies that target Muslims and other minorities.
According to a nearly complete vote count Saturday, Modi’s Hindu nationalist party suffered a political defeat as India’s main opposition Congress party took control of the southern Karnataka state. The victory may help unite the opposition ahead of next year’s general election, in which Modi will seek a third consecutive term as Prime Minister.
However, creating a personal rapport outside of public view may be necessary for Biden in resolving any differences with Modi.