President Joe Biden hailed a new era in the U.S.-India relationship, after rolling out the White House red carpet for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, touting deals on defense and commerce aimed at countering China’s global influence.
The partnership is “stronger, closer and more dynamic than at any time in history,” Biden told reporters at a joint press conference with Modi, and the economic relationship is “booming,” with trade more than doubling over the past decade.
Modi touted “a new chapter” to the countries’ “strategic partnership” after the two leaders emerged from Oval Office talks where the countries’ differences on Russia and human rights were on the table.
Washington wants India to be a strategic counterweight to China and sees it as a critical partnership, although some analysts and former officials question India’s willingness to stand up collectively to Beijing over issues such as Taiwan. Washington has also been frustrated by India’s close ties with Russia amid Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Modi is seeking to raise the influence that India, the world’s most populous country at 1.4 billion, has on the world stage in the wake of strained ties with neighboring China.
The press conference itself was a reflection of contrasting political traditions, marking the first time Modi has taken questions in such a format in his nine-year tenure.
Modi’s visit was not without controversy. His planned speech later on Thursday to a joint meeting of Congress, normally an affirmation of a visiting leader from an allied nation, was set to be boycotted by a raft of liberal lawmakers.
As 7,000 well-wishers gathered for a colorful opening ceremony at the White House, a far smaller group of demonstrators gathered blocks away to protest the Biden administration’s coziness with Modi.
But, for Biden, the benefits of engaging with the world’s most populous democracy at a moment of increased tensions with rival China have outweighed both the costs and risks.
“The challenges and opportunities facing the world in this century require that India and the United States work and lead together, and we are,” Biden said as he welcomed Modi to the White House. He promised to discuss human rights, freedom and the rule of law with Modi, and told reporters after their talks that they had a “straight forward” discussion.
A festival-like morning ceremony at the White House featured a cappella group Penn Masala performing renditions of songs by the American group Maroon 5 as well as from movies featuring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
After Modi addresses Congress, Biden is set to host the Indian leader for a glittering state dinner on Thursday evening.
NEW US-INDIA DEALS
Biden administration officials say sweeping agreements to be announced on semiconductors, critical minerals, technology, space cooperation and defense cooperation and sales will ring in a new era in relations between the two countries.
Some are aimed at diversifying supply chains to reduce dependence on China. Others are aimed at cornering the market in advanced technologies that may feature on the battlefields of the future.
The United States has also sought to address China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region by bolstering defense ties with countries like India, Japan, Australia, South Korea as well as countries across the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
Biden and Modi will sign off on a deal to allow General Electric GE.N to produce jet engines in India to power Indian military aircraft, through an agreement with Hindustan Aeronautics. HIAE.NS
U.S. Navy ships in the region will be able to stop in Indian shipyards for repairs under a maritime agreement, and India will procure U.S.-made armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones.
U.S. chipmaker Micron Technology’s MU.O $2.7 billion plans a new semiconductor testing and packaging unit, to be built in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The U.S. will also make it easier for skilled Indian workers to get and renew U.S. visas.
India also agreed to join the U.S.-led Artemis Accords on space exploration and to work with NASA on a joint mission to the International Space Station in 2024.
PROGRESSIVE U.S. CONGRESS MEMBERS TO BOYCOTT
The flurry of agreements comes as some lawmakers have raised serious concerns about democratic backsliding in India.
Several progressive Democrats – including U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – have said they would boycott Modi’s address to Congress.
“I encourage my colleagues who stand for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of the press to join me in doing the same,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters he hoped to plan a bipartisan congressional delegation to India in October.
Modi has been to the United States five times since becoming prime minister in 2014, but the trip is his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit. The two leaders held a private, intimate dinner at the White House on Wednesday night.
Modi will address U.S. CEOs at a reception on Friday, as American companies plan new investments in India.