To mark the deepening partnership between the United States and India, President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an official state visit at the White House on June 22, 2023.
This will be Modi’s first-ever state dinner at the White House, and Biden’s third state dinner for world leaders, coming after the President of South Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol in April 2023, and President of France, Emmanuel Macron in December 2022. The last state dinner for an Indian Head of Government was hosted by President Barack Obama in November 2009 for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Republic of India for an Official State Visit to the United States, which will include a state dinner, on June 22, 2023,” the White House Press Officer Karine Jean Pierre announced May 10.
“The upcoming visit will affirm the deep and close partnership between the United States and India and the warm bonds of family and friendship that link Americans and Indians together,” Jean Pierre said.
While this is not Prime Minister Modi’s first trip to the White House, an official state visit goes beyond every-day diplomacy, in displaying the pomp and circumstance as well as depth and significance of a bilateral relationship.
And this is a time when the bilateral relationship is at its height in terms of expanding the reach to the Indo-Pacific. And like all past visits, US-India relations have always had challenges that require a public face and a private negotiation, this time with Ukraine and the Russian invasion and India’s domestic politics, moving simultaneously with increased defense and national security collaboration.
Both Biden and Modi have met not just as part of The Quad for Indo-Pacific at the White House, but they’ve been together and other forums be it in East Asia or Europe. And top officials and lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, from both administrations have been meeting on a regular basis both in Washington and New Delhi, some for their own agendas and constituencies in US, and others for ironing out the nitty gritty of defense, trade, visa, Russia, and even rights issues.
President Biden has probably the highest number of Indian-American appointees and nominees during his three years in office than any previous administration. But the most difficult appointment to push through was that of an Ambassador to India, a position that lay vacant until recently when Ambassador Eric Garcetti was finally cleared by the US Senate.
“The visit will strengthen our two countries’ shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific and our shared resolve to elevate our strategic technology partnership, including in defense, clean energy, and space,” the spokesperson said.
“The leaders will discuss ways to further expand our educational exchanges and people-to-people ties, as well as our work together to confront common challenges from climate change, to workforce development and health security,” Jean Pierre added.
However, during a press briefing the same day, questions about whether human rights would be discussed when the two leaders meet. Jean-Pierre told reporters Biden believes “this is an important relationship that we need to continue and build on as it relates to human rights.”
New Delhi called it a ‘historic visit’ which “offers a valuable opportunity for India and the US to further deepen a comprehensive and forward-looking global strategic partnership.”
India’s Ministry of External Affairs put out a statement echoing Washington’s views about the June 22 visit. “The visit will underscore the growing importance of the strategic partnership between India and the United States as the two nations collaborate across numerous sectors,” the MEA statement said.
“The leaders will have the opportunity to review strong bilateral cooperation in various areas of mutual interest, including technology, trade, industry, education, research, clean energy, defense, security, healthcare, and deepening people-to-people connections,” the Government of India said.
“Prime Minister Modi and President Biden will also explore ways to strengthen India-US collaboration in pluri-lateral and multilateral fora, including in the G20. They would reflect on their shared vision for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific and discuss opportunities to expand and consolidate the Quad engagement,” MEA added.
US experts monitoring US-India relations are confident that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit will be “really productive and positive.” They believe the visit will highlight the growing strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific, progress in defense and security areas, and foresee advancement in the initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) dialogue. However, they say progress in commercial engagement is still “lagging” but are confident that the Russia-Ukraine war will not overshadow this important visit.
(President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Modi announced the U.S.-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) in May 2022, and it was launched Jan. 31, 2023, with the express objective “to elevate and expand our strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the governments, businesses, and academic institutions of our two countries.”)
Modi visited the White House in September 2021 to attend the Quad Summit, where the Indian Prime Minister along with Biden, Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, and Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga reviewed progress about their “Commitments to advance our shared and positive agenda for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
In a statement, the White House said the visit would strengthen the shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific and the desire to elevate the bilateral strategic technology partnership, including in defense, clean energy, and space.
“I would say the security relationship between our governments is moving along at a pretty good pace – between operations and between attempts to find new ways to share defense technology,” Richard Rossow, senior adviser and Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told News India Times. He emphasized that both governments would work towards strongly advancing iCET.
“I do hope they find interesting ways to further deepen the commercial relationship. The numbers are pretty good, but so far, our governments haven’t really found useful ways to try to accelerate commercial engagement,” Rossow said. “They have a tough time resolving small problems,” he contended. “So hopefully, at least in commercial areas that have strategic significance, we can begin to see real tangible progress, following the national security advisors visit in January…commercial is lagging a bit, but I know that’ll be highlighted in the visit.”
“It shows the importance that the Biden administration attaches to its relationship with India,” Lisa Curtis, senior fellow and director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told News India Times, reflecting on the implications of the visit.
“This will be a great opportunity to expand on iCET, that was launched by the National Security Advisors in January to discuss mutual concerns on how to deal with a rising China,” Curtis added. She termed Modi’s state visit “very significant,” as such visits are not accorded to every leader.
Curtis foresees there will be progress on the iCET dialogue and went on to say, “It is really important because of the US-China competition and the race to gain a technological edge right now. So, iCET really shows that the US is interested in working closely with India on creating resilient supply chains when it comes to critical and emerging technologies,” while adding “And it also shows the importance of India having the defense capabilities it needs to defend itself and in particular to face down any Chinese aggression at the border.”
About security partnerships, Curtis pointed out “India really has not made a major defense purchase from the United States since President Trump visited India over three years ago when they made the major helicopter purchase from the United States. So, I think the expectation is that we might see something on the defense and security side, come to fruition.”
Rossow and Curtis both noted that Biden and Modi would meet at the Quad Summit later this month in Sydney, and again in September in New Delhi for the G20 Leaders’ Summit. They emphasized that continued engagement is vital for US-India relations.
Curtis recalled that Modi’s visit was preceded by important visits by US-Indo-Pacific partners since January, including Prime Minister of Japan, Kishida Fumio, President of South Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, and President of Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “Now with India, it sort of taps off this very momentous six months, the US really operationalizing Indo-Pacific policy and strategy with all these important partners and of course India is certainly one of those.”
Regarding the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on US-India relations, Rossow said “It will be brought up. I’m sure that we’d love to see India’s position stiffen a little bit more on Russia’s invasion. If you look at some of the numbers, India’s trade with Russia and imports from Russia have really been spiking. So, India is providing, a critical economic lifeline to Russia during this war period. And I’m sure it’ll get raised but it won’t be the focus of the visit. It’ll be a talking point…”
Touching upon the Russia-Ukraine war, Curtis said, “I think the US has been willing to set aside the differences with India over Russia, in order to really maximize the potential of the relationship and build on the strategic convergences that are there which is in promoting a free open rules based Indo-Pacific,” adding that this is one of the top priorities of US, and India is an integral part in fulfilling that vision.
Curtis, acknowledged that there are some areas of tension in the US-India trade relationship, but believes that the positive aspects of the partnership outweigh the negative. She noted that during the Trump administration, there was an excessive focus on the trade differences between the two countries, but the Biden administration seems to be prioritizing the broader strategic relationship and cooperation in the free and open Indo-Pacific region. Although trade will still be discussed, Curtis doesn’t think it will be as prominent as it was during the previous administration.