PM Modi’s eighth visit to the US in nine years was a landmark in a series of interactions between the two countries. Strong bipartisan support exists in both countries for vibrant relations between the two countries. This has made the India-US partnership one of the most consequential and defining relationships in current times.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the United States from 21st to 23rd June, 2023 for the eighth time during his tenure. The visit symbolized the dynamism of US-India partnership and the importance which PM Modi attaches to relations with Washington. In his nine years in office, PM Modi has traveled most often to the US.
PM Modi was invited by President Joe Biden and Dr Jill Biden for his first Official State Visit to the United States. This was a pivotal moment as State visits to the US are infrequent. In addition, PM Modi addressed the joint session of the US Congress on 22nd June. PM Modi last addressed the US Congress in June 2016. He is the only Indian leader, and one of very few world leaders, to have been invited to address the US Congress more than once. The last Indian leader to travel to the US for an Official State Visit was Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2009. Dr. Singh also addressed the US Congress in 2005.
PM Modi’s visit and address to the US Congress demonstrate the importance that President Biden attaches to the US partnership with India and PM Modi’s contribution in bringing it to this level. The visit strengthened the commitment of the two countries to a free, open, prosperous, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
In India, all prime ministers over the last 23 years have worked to expand India-US bilateral ties. PM Modi’s contribution has however been notably pivotal in the growth of India-US relations. Strong bipartisan support exists in both countries for vibrant relations between the two countries. This has made the India-US partnership one of the most consequential and defining relationships in current times.
Current State of Play
The warmth, respect and rapport between PM Modi and President Biden has been palpable during many recent events. These include the G7 and Quad Summits in Hiroshima, the G20 Summit in Bali, the G7 Summit in Germany, the G20 Summit in Italy and many more.
Additionally, Biden’s engagement with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has not diluted his commitment to the Indo-Pacific. Five summit-level interactions between the leaders of the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, USA) have taken place over the last 25 months. This extraordinary attention to the Quad demonstrates the resolve of the leaders inter alia of USA and India to strengthen their partnership and effectively push back against China’s growing expansionism.
Today, there is a convergence of values and interests between India and the US. Some of these emerging areas of common interest include, the fight against terrorism, push-back against China’s expansionism, attraction for the US of India’s huge and expanding domestic market, presence of a large and influential Indian diaspora in the US, India’s need for infusion of capital and technology for its rapid economic growth etc.
The US and India have over 60 bilateral dialogue mechanisms. These include platforms for cooperation in renewable energy, climate change, information technology, healthcare, agriculture, cyber security and many others. The US has emerged as one of the top three suppliers of defense equipment to India. India also conducts more defense exercises with the US than with any other partner.
21st June, the first day of the visit to Washington DC, saw a private engagement between President Biden and PM Modi, as well as a Skilling Event in the Montgomery Community College attended by PM Modi and Dr Jill Biden.
The next day witnessed an extremely hectic and packed schedule with the ceremonial welcome at the White House which was attended by several thousand members of the Indian diaspora, followed by bilateral meetings between the two leaders and the delegations. After the Statements by the two leaders to the media at which PM Modi gave a spirited response to a question from the Wall Street Journal about the alleged discrimination of minorities in India, PM Modi delivered his Address to the Joint Session of the US Congress. He received several standing ovations and regular thunderous applause by members of the Congress. The Address to the US Congress presented a brief over-view of the progress India has registered over the last 9 years and the huge untapped potential for expansion of relations between India and USA. The day concluded with the State dinner hosted by President Biden in PM Modi’s honor.
On 23rd June, the final day in Washington DC, PM Modi was hosted to a luncheon by the US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. PM then interacted with prominent professional personalities at the Kennedy Center. His last engagement was an interaction with an enthusiastic Indian diaspora at the Ronald Reagan Centre.
A decisive impetus to high technology collaboration between the two democracies was the most significant outcome of the visit. It is clear that the US has made the strategic decision to catapult India into the ranks of highly technologically advanced countries. In the past, the US has been reluctant in sharing its cutting edge technologies with India. That situation appears to have changed radically. This is evidence of the growing trust and confidence between the two leaders and the countries.
The visit emphasized the shared resolve of the two leaders to elevate their strategic technology partnership, including in defense, critical and emerging technologies, clean energy, telecommunications, resilient supply chains, Open RAN, 5G/6G technologies, AI, Quantum Computing, space, semiconductor chips and many more. In addition, investments of several billions of dollars were announced by many US firms like Google Alphabet, Applied Materials, LAM and others into India. An MoU on Semiconductor Supply Chain and Innovation Partnership was signed to promote commercial opportunities, research, talent, and skill development. Micron Technology, Inc., announced it will invest up to $825 million to build a new semiconductor assembly and test facility in India. The combined investment valued at $2.75 billion in this enterprise will create several thousand jobs. 35 innovative joint research collaborations in emerging technologies were identified which would be funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Indian Department of Science and Technology (DST).
The two leaders committed their administrations to promoting policies and procedures for greater technology sharing, co-development, and co-production opportunities between U.S. and Indian industry, government, and academic institutions.
NASA declared that it will provide advanced training to Indian astronauts with a goal of mounting a joint effort to the International Space Station in 2024. NASA and ISRO signed an agreement to develop a strategic framework for human spaceflight cooperation by the end of 2023.
In the area of defence, the two sides adopted a Defense Industrial Cooperation Roadmap, to provide policy direction to defense industries and enable co-production of advanced defense systems and collaborative research, testing, and prototyping of projects. The highlight in this sector was the signing of an MOU between General Electric of USA and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of India for Transfer of Technology and joint production of GE-F414 jet engines for India’s indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft. In addition, USA will supply MQ-3B predator drones to India which India has been demanding for quite some time.
Far-reaching decisions in several other areas like opening of new consulates, both by India and USA; launch of a pilot project for extension of H1B and L visas to Indian nationals in the US without the requirement of leaving the country; launch of the India-US Defense Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X); countering global terrorism and taking concerted action against all UN-listed terrorist groups including Al-Qa’ida, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizb-ul-Mujhahideen etc. were also taken;
When relations between two countries are as comprehensive and complex as those between the US and India, there will always be a few areas of disagreement. Some of these areas between India and USA include India’s steadfast, balanced position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict including India’s increasing imports of Russian oil, America’s continued support to Pakistan for servicing and upgradation of its F-16 fleet etc. It appears that the US has made its peace with India’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. On India’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US National Security Advisor said that one issue cannot be allowed to determine the contours of the whole relationship, and that the US is in a long game with India. Moreover, recent reports on back-sliding of India’s democracy and alleged discrimination of minorities in India have sought to create stress between the two governments but without any success.
Both countries however recognize that the areas of bilateral convergence are far greater than the issues that separate them. The challenge before the leadership of India and the US is to focus and build upon the areas of convergence while continuing to have honest conversations on their differences.
India-US relations are poised at a take-off stage today.
The geo-political uncertainty and flux has played an important role in this development. India’s impressive economic and military growth in recent years, the competent manner in which India has dealt with the two black swan events of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, its confident and self-assured conduct of its foreign policy etc. have also contributed significantly to this outcome. India has emerged as a partner of choice for seeking solutions to some major challenges like climate change, terrorism, economic growth, health etc. confronting the world today.
The US continues to be the pre-eminent power in the world economically, militarily, technologically and in global influence. However, the gap between the US and China, particularly in the economic field, has diminished considerably in recent years. China (and Russia) are convinced that the US is in terminal decline and it is only a matter of time before the Chinese economy overtakes the US economy. This has made China increasingly assertive in the South China Sea, East China Sea, the Taiwan Straits and on the LAC with India ever since Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012.
To balance China and to maintain its predominant position in the world, the US needs allies and partners. Although it has many allies and partners in Asia, none can equal India in area, population, size of economy, military strength etc. The US would also like to wean away India from its dependence on Russia as the principal defence supplier.
India wants to emerge as a stronger, more confident, self-assured power to safeguard its sovereignty and provide a better life to its people. For this it needs capital, technology and large markets which the US can provide. India also needs real time intelligence to respond effectively to any threats from its northern and western neighbours.
PM Modi in his Address to the Indian diaspora on 23rd June, 2023 said: ‘’This partnership is not one of convenience, but of conviction.’’
With strong and visionary leadership in the two countries, US-India bilateral ties can be expected to scale even greater heights in the years to come. PM Modi’s momentous visit to the US will play a vital and decisive role in achieving this objective.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar is Executive Council Member, Mahohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses; President, Institute of Global Studies; Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Aspen Centre, and former Ambassdor of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia.