US, India forge deeper strategic ties with Modi visit

World Monday 26/June/2023 10:42 AM
By: DW
US, India forge deeper strategic ties with Modi visit

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's three-day state visit to the United States, which experts and policy analysts have described as a new chapter in relations between both countries, was also an acknowledgement by Washington of India's critical relevance in the larger global strategic framework.

Aside from the optics of the state visit, which saw Modi address a joint session of the US Congress for a second time and feted at the Oval Office by US President Joe Biden, the trip saw a slew of technology and defense deals.

US-India relations enter a new chapter

"The decisions are truly transformative across areas and this level of collaboration reflects both deep trust between the two sides and the fact that India and the US are in it for the long term," said Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra at a press briefing.In his address to the US Congress on June 23, Modi said India's relationship with the US had "met the test of friendship," agreeing with Biden that it "is a defining partnership of this century."

"The dark clouds of coercion and confrontation are casting their shadow in the Indo-Pacific. The stability of the region has become one of the central concerns of our partnership," said Modi. His hourlong speech touched on a range of issues, including climate, the economy, women empowerment, terrorism and social welfare schemes.

Modi's visit 'a huge movement forward in bilateral relations'

Amitabh Mattoo, professor of international relations in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said Modi's visit was unparalleled as India moves to secure what it sees as its rightful place on the world stage at a moment of geopolitical turmoil.

"This visit has been high on symbolism and substance and a huge movement forward in bilateral relations. We have traditionally not been allies but developed a special relationship. In the past, we were denied critical technology especially post the Cold War, but all that has changed," Mattoo told DW.

This view was shared by C. Raja Mohan, a senior fellow of the Asia Society Policy Institute, who characterized the visit as an inflection point in the evolution of India-US relationship.

"There is no doubt that Modi and Biden have nudged India and the US on a road not traveled before — toward a joint construction of a stable Asian balance of power system," said Mohan.

"The sweeping ambition of the agreements unveiled, ranging from advanced technology cooperation to climate change, from the production of fighter jet engines to investments in semiconductors and countering terrorism, is breathtaking," he added.

Modi defends India's record on democracy

Much of Modi's visit was tightly choreographed, even though Biden faced increased pressure from fellow Democrats to raise alleged human rights issues after 75 US senators and Congressional lawmakers wrote a letter to the president outlining their areas of concern.

Replying to a question from the US media on the steps taken by the Indian government to protect the rights of Muslims and other minorities and uphold free speech, Modi strongly defended India's record on democracy and his government's performance and human rights.

"India is a democracy," said Modi said during a joint press briefing at the White House on June 22. "And as President Biden also mentioned, India and America — both countries, democracy is in our DNA. Democracy is our spirit. Democracy runs in our veins. We live democracy.

"We have always proved that democracy can deliver. And when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender. There's absolutely no space for discrimination," he added.

Major agreements in defense, emerging technologies

The joint statement issued by India and the US at the end of the visit affirmed a shared vision, but also acknowledged that US barriers when it came to sharing critical and emerging technology with India had been overcome.

"The big takeaway as far as defense deals go is the agreement on the transfer of jet engine manufacturing know-how," Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, a retired military officer who served in the Indian Navy and an expert on security and strategic affairs, told DW. "The Modi visit has enabled an agreement to be inked for a government-to-government supply of 31 MQ-9B armed drones worth $3 billion.

"While these plans to manufacture the jet engine (F414) and the drones over the next few years are very welcome, the real substance and potential is in the primacy accorded to high-tech cooperation," he added.

With new agreements in defense, and critical and emerging technologies, having been made possible after the visit, India is now contracted to buy more than $20 billion (€18.3 billion) worth of equipment.

The civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed in 2008 started the process of easing restrictions on India's access to higher-level defense and dual-use technologies in the US. But the agreements this time around are a big scale-up.

"This has been a major upgrade in the relationship taking forward a process that started in the 21st century, with the nuclear deal of 2008 a major milestone in the journey," said Ajay Bisaria, a seasoned diplomat and India's former high commissioner to Pakistan.

Win-win situation for India

Bisaria pointed out that potential future deals on technology, supply chains and clean energy would be part of a broader effort by the US government to bolster India's position in the region vis-a-vis China.

"China's unruly rise is the glue that makes India and US stick closer. A subtext present through the visit was the shared concern about Chinese belligerence, and the need to de-risk away from overdependence on supply chains originating in China," he added.

The leaders' joint statement did not explicitly mention China, but references to the Indo-Pacific region and the so-called Quad Alliance between the US, India, Japan and Australia made the point of the geopolitical alignment clear.

"The tech partnership from sea to sky has been taken to the next level, to shape it as a broad-based tech partnership in advanced and critical technologies, easing transfer of those technologies to India, to build resilient supply chains that bypass China, for defense production, semiconductors and space collaboration," said Bisaria.

During the visit, several US companies such as Micron Technology, Applied Materials and Lam Research announced investments for semiconductor testing and assembly facility in India, along with engineering collaboration and workforce training.

Meera Shankar, India's former ambassador to the US, told DW that the Biden administration's change of attitude when it came to technology transfer was welcome.

"The proposed investment by Micron for setting up a facility for semiconductor testing and assembly in India is a significant first step. There is a window of opportunity for India to become a part of global supply chains in these sectors with some manufacturing shifting to India, as the US seeks to de-risk and reduce over dependence on China," she said. "Clearly the India-US strategic partnership is poised to be stronger."