How Modi and Biden Turbocharged India-US Ties

US President Joe Biden hails the partnership with India as one of the “most consequential in the world” following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand state visit to Washington. Exploring the potential of this visit in strengthening ties between the two nations, experts highlight the transformative nature of the relationship. According to Michael Kugelman of The Wilson Center, the India-US summit indicates a broad and deep connection that has developed in a relatively short period. He states, “It underscores just how broad and deep it has become in a relatively short time.”

One significant driving factor behind the deepening relationship is the US’s aim to establish India as a counterbalance to China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. While the promise of India-US ties had previously been limited due to India’s liability law and a fading commitment during former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tenure, the enthusiasm to embrace the US has surged under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership. Seema Sirohi, author of “Friends With Benefits: The India-US Story,” explains, “With Mr Modi, there has been a lot more enthusiasm about embracing the US. Mr Biden has also given an overall broad directive to make it work.”

The US has demonstrated its commitment to the relationship by actively pursuing substantial outcomes during Prime Minister Modi’s visit. Areas of focus include defense-industrial cooperation and technology transfer. Noteworthy collaborations include General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited partnering to manufacture advanced fighter jet engines in India. This move represents a significant transfer of US jet engine technology, emphasizing Washington’s willingness to not only sell arms but also share military technology.

Additionally, India plans to purchase $3 billion worth of MQ-9B Predator drones from General Atomics, which will establish a facility in India for assembly. This aligns with Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. While Russia remains India’s largest arms supplier, the US aims to become the primary provider in the coming years. The objective, as highlighted by Michael Kugelman, is to “strengthen India’s military capacity to counter China.”

Recognizing the importance of technology and the future, India seeks to establish itself as a semiconductor hub. Micron Technology, a US memory chip giant, plans to invest up to $825 million in building a semiconductor assembly and test facility in India, which will generate numerous job opportunities. Furthermore, Lam Research, a US semiconductor equipment maker, will train 60,000 Indian engineers to accelerate semiconductor education and workforce development. Applied Materials, the largest semiconductor manufacturing equipment supplier, will invest $400 million to establish an engineering center in India.

Seema Sirohi sums up the current focus of the India-US relationship, stating, “It is all about the future now. Both sides are talking about cutting-edge technologies and how to seed and shape the future.” While the relationship between India and the US has experienced fluctuations over the years, the recent visit signifies a more substantial and forward-looking connection.

India’s approach to geopolitics and its position in the global order has shaped its foreign policy, rooted in the strategy of nonalignment established by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. India has always sought to maintain its independence and avoid being perceived as subservient to any global superpower. Prime Minister Modi continues to uphold the ideals of “strategic altruism” in Indian foreign policy, despite leading a more economically and geopolitically influential India. He has developed close relationships with former US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and now with President Biden, while preserving India’s “strategic autonomy.”

While the Biden administration may have desired a stronger stance from India on Russia and China, Prime Minister Modi’s approach did not compromise India’s strategic autonomy. Although he refrained from mentioning Russia, he reiterated the importance of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. He also emphasized the significance of a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific without directly mentioning China. This delicate balance allowed Mr. Modi to push the boundaries of strategic autonomy without undermining the success of his visit.

The defense collaboration between India and the US has strengthened, with increased cooperation, joint exercises, intelligence sharing, and the utilization of each other’s facilities for refueling and maintenance purposes. This progress, without formalizing a full-fledged alliance, demonstrates Mr. Modi’s ability to test the limits of strategic autonomy. Michael Kugelman acknowledges his achievement, stating, “In the sense that he is getting about as close as you can to a major power without signing on to a full-fledged alliance.”

While trade disputes and tariffs have been contentious issues between India and the US in recent years, the two nations announced the resolution of six separate trade disputes, including tariff-related disputes, during the visit. The US is currently India’s top trading partner, and analysts see tremendous untapped potential for further growth, given India’s expanding middle class and its aspiration to become a manufacturing hub and an alternative to China in the global supply chain. Resolving trade disputes will undoubtedly provide a significant boost to India-US trade ties and help unlock their full potential.

Despite concerns raised by critics in Washington regarding democratic backsliding under Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there is a bipartisan agreement to deepen and broaden the relationship between India and the US. While some progressives in the Democratic Party express concerns about the treatment of minorities in India, the broader consensus recognizes the importance of strengthening the relationship, especially considering the growing influence of China. Seema Sirohi asserts that the India-US strategic partnership has indeed reached the next level, characterized by mutual need and mutual benefit.

In conclusion, India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Modi reflects a delicate balance between preserving strategic autonomy, fostering strong ties with the US, and positioning India as a significant global player. The successful state visit solidified the partnership between India and the US, with a focus on defense collaboration, the resolution of trade disputes, and the recognition of shared interests and benefits.

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