This week, all attention is focused on the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States, where he was warmly welcomed by President Joseph Biden. The visit of PM Modi included various significant events such as a private dinner at the White House, a ceremonial welcome, a state banquet, an address to the joint session of the US Congress, and a lunch at the State Department. Notably, PM Modi became the third international leader, following French President Macron and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, to receive an invitation as a State guest to the Biden White House. Additionally, he became the third Indian leader to be honored as a State visitor in Washington. Ever since 2009, when President Barack Obama extended an invitation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and back in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy invited President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the tradition continues. Six decades later, it was Prime Minister Modi who received a ceremonial welcome at the White House from President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, along with a resounding standing ovation during his address to the US Congress.
President Joe Biden expressed that In the future, when reflecting upon the past, individuals will acknowledge the profound impact of the Quad in shaping the trajectory towards global welfare, as articulated by the Prime Minister. The collaboration between India and the United States encompasses a wide range of critical endeavors, including the eradication of poverty, enhancing healthcare accessibility, combating climate change, and addressing the challenges of food and energy insecurity exacerbated by Russia’s unwarranted aggression against Ukraine.
While PM Modi stated that “At the beginning of the 21st century, our nations were unfamiliar in terms of defense collaboration. However, the United States has now emerged as a crucial ally in the realm of defense. Presently, India and the US are engaged in joint endeavors spanning various domains, including space and maritime activities, scientific advancements, semiconductor technologies, fostering start-ups and sustainability initiatives, technological advancements, trade, agricultural practices, financial cooperation, promoting art and artificial intelligence, energy solutions, education, healthcare improvements, and humanitarian endeavors.”
India has made a procurement deal to purchase 16 armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAVs, showcasing their intent to strengthen their defense capabilities. Additionally, the US Navy has finalized a Master Ship Repair Agreement (MSRA) with Larsen and Toubro Shipyard in Kattupalli (Chennai), and they are currently in the process of finalizing agreements with Mazagon Dock Limited (Mumbai) and Goa Shipyard (Goa). Moreover, Indian liaison officers will be stationed at three US commands, promoting closer cooperation between the two countries. The launch of the India-U.S. Defense Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) is underway, which aims to foster collaboration between private defense industries in the United States and India.
Furthermore, India has signed the Artemis Accords, aligning themselves with 26 other nations committed to exploring celestial bodies such as the Moon and Mars. As part of this endeavor, NASA will provide advanced training to Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) astronauts, with the joint goal of launching a mission to the International Space Station in 2024. NASA and ISRO are also working on establishing a strategic framework for human spaceflight cooperation by the end of 2023.
In the realm of trade and consular affairs, several notable developments have taken place. Six out of seven outstanding disputes between India and the United States at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have been resolved through mutually agreed-upon solutions, focusing on market access. Additionally, India has announced plans to establish a consulate in Seattle and two other US cities, while the US will be setting up new consulates in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. There have also been positive changes in H1B visa norms, allowing for easier in-country renewal and increased availability of visas.
Let’s check the geopolitical takeaways of the Modi visit. The reaffirmation of strategic ties between India and the United States remains strong, both within the Quad and the Indo-Pacific region. While there was no specific mention of China, the focus lies on fostering high technology partnerships, similar to the impact generated by the nuclear deal, defense agreements, and the pursuit of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the past. Notably, the potential Jet engine deal holds promise for facilitating greater technology transfer, which has been a challenge in the bilateral relationship thus far. Continuity in leadership-level summits and meetings ensures steady growth in India-US ties, as observed over the past two decades. In September, President Biden is expected to visit India for the G20 summit, and there is speculation that Prime Minister Modi will be invited to the APEC summit in California in November. This summit will gather leaders from 21 countries, including the US and China, providing further opportunities for interaction and collaboration. The primary focus of this visit revolves around the co-production of GE F414 jet engines in India, which still faces significant regulatory hurdles. The process involves submitting a manufacturing license agreement for Congressional Notification, requiring clearance from the US Congress based on Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). There are unresolved questions regarding the extent of technology transfer and India’s acceptance of associated conditions, which were contributing factors in the previous unsuccessful attempts at jet engine technology transfer under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) between 2010 and 2019. Similarly, Indian regulations have delayed progress on the Indo-US nuclear deal between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) for the construction of six nuclear reactors in Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh. Despite the announcement of the nuclear deal by Modi and Obama eight years ago, and finding a way around the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLNDA), there is still no techno-commercial offer available.
Regarding the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks, the Biden administration has expressed disinterest in continuing the negotiations initiated during the Trump era. Conversely, the Modi government expects the restoration of India’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) status for exports from the Biden administration, but no progress was made on this matter during the visit. The significant deal from 2019, involving Indian investment of $2.5 billion in Petronet’s planned participation in Tellurian’s Driftwood LNG project, has not been revived. Additionally, no announcements were made regarding GAIL India’s investment plans in US LNG plants.
While India and the US agreed to disagree on certain matters, differences persist over the Russian war in Ukraine. President Biden referenced Russia’s brutal war on two occasions, whereas Prime Minister Modi did not, and this discrepancy was not reflected in the Joint statement. Human rights continue to be a sensitive issue, reminiscent of the situation in 2014 when Prime Minister Modi visited India for the first time after his visa was revoked in 2005. Ahead of this visit, 75 members of the US Congress wrote to President Biden, urging him to publicly address concerns over human rights and democracy in India, which he did not. In an interview released on the same day as the State visit, former President Obama expressed his perspective on the importance of addressing the protection of the Muslim minority within a predominantly Hindu India during discussions with Prime Minister Modi. He emphasized that safeguarding the rights of ethnic minorities in India is crucial, as failing to do so could potentially lead to significant internal conflicts that can cause divisions within the country. President Obama indicated that he would have conveyed a similar argument to Prime Minister Modi, highlighting the potential consequences of not ensuring the protection of minority rights. During a rare press event where he addressed a few questions from the media, Prime Minister Modi emphasized the following point: “India has demonstrated the effectiveness of democracy, and it upholds principles of equality without any form of discrimination based on caste, creed, or religion.”
Beyond the immediate context, the fundamental basis for India-US relations, particularly between their people, has always been robust. This enduring foundation has allowed the two nations to maintain close ties even during the tensions of the Cold War era. PM Modi’s state visit to Washington represents another significant stride forward in the continuously strengthening relationship that has evolved over two decades. The focus now shifts towards advancing technology transfer between the two countries. While addressing queries regarding Indian democracy during his rare interaction in the US, it is essential to recognize that the responses PM Modi provides to his fellow citizens in India on matters concerning democratic freedoms hold true significance.