Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making his first state visit to the United States. This marks the beginning of a new era in the ties between the world's oldest democracy and the world's biggest.
PM Modi has visited the US several times since he assumed the mantle of the prime minister back in 2014. None were state visits, however. Modi and US President Joe Biden have also met each other on previous occasions. Most recently, they met at the G7 Hiroshima Summit, where the Indian PM was an invited guest. (India is also the current chair of the G20.)
In Hiroshima, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also invited the heads of state of several other countries. Australia, Brazil, Comoros (chair of the African Union), and the Cook Islands (chair of the Pacific Islands Forum) were invited. So were Indonesia (chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), South Korea, and Vietnam.
Behind the Growing India-US Relationship
India and the United States have been growing closer in a wide variety of areas.
They have a set of common security challenges in the Indo-Pacific and have been holding quite a few joint defense exercises with each other. At the same time, India's relations with countries like Japan and Australia have been improving very rapidly. Japan and Australia are two of the closest US allies in the Indo-Pacific. And India along with Japan and Australia are a part of the multilateral Malabar naval exercises (which Australia joined in 2020).
One important aspect of their cooperation is the fact that they are part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or "Quad." The Quad began way back in 2007, during the time of former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. At the time, however, it fell flat after repeated protestations from China.
Things changed after the Quad was revived on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila, Philippines, in November 2017. Since then there has been no looking back.
In a sign of their growing convergence, the Quad leaders released a Joint Statement on the sidelines of the Hiroshima Summit. In it, they said, "We seek a region where no country dominates and no country is dominated – one where all countries are free from coercion, and can exercise their agency to determine their futures. Our four countries are united by this shared vision."
Why is the State Visit Significant?
Defense relations between India and the US picked up pace after the signing of the Framework for the US-India Defense Relationship in 2005 (renewed in 2015). The US also designated India as a "Major Defence Partner (MDP)" in 2016, bringing India more or less at par with its closest allies.
These days, India also buys a whole range of weapons systems from the US. For example, these include C-130J planes, C-17 Transporters, P-8I Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft, CH-47 Chinook Helicopters, Harpoon Anti-Ship missiles, M777 Howitzers, and MH-80 Seahawk Maritime helicopters.
New Delhi has been looking to buy armed drones from the United States. And a deal could be on the cards during PM Modi's visit.
On another geographic front, the US and India share an interest in establishing peace in Afghanistan. India was a major donor in the country before the unraveling of the Afghan government in August 2021. That was for the Taliban captured power.
Cooperation in the field of healthcare provides another example of bilateral cooperation. This is especially true in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic
China's Role in the Relationship
There is no doubt that China is one of the factors bringing the two countries closer. President Xi Jinping assumed his third term as president and is probably the strongest Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. The United States has had run-ins with China on multiple occasions. And the US has been collaborating with like-minded nations such as India to maintain a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.
Nevertheless, there are still some dissonances between the new friends. These may be found in areas like New Delhi's ties with Moscow. Russia is still the biggest arms supplier to India, and although arms sales from countries like the US are increasing. However, this has not been able to offset India's heavy dependence on arms imports from Russia.
Second, their interests diverge in relation to countries like Pakistan. New Delhi has not been too happy with the issue of the US supplying spare parts to Pakistan for the US-made F16s in its service. In addition, technology transfers of US-made weapons platforms could be another point of divergence. On this front, the Indian government has been pushing its "Make-in-India" initiative.
Then there are differences in the case of Iranian oil imports by India.
The Road Ahead
The road ahead is not going to be easy. However, economic ties between the two countries are a big positive point. India is already the fastest-growing major economy and is a bright spot in the world in the wake of the downturn post the coronavirus pandemic.
The United States is now India's largest trading partner. And in 2022, the bilateral trade between the two countries reached over $190 billion.
The huge Indian diaspora in the United States is also India's asset. Already, Indian Americans are heading some of the biggest US corporations and have become a wonderful bridge between the two countries.
Ajay Banga, who is of Indian origin, recently became the Chief of the World Bank. It has been estimated that Persons of Indian origin constitute the third largest Asian ethnic group in the US, at almost 3.18 million.
Hence, there is no doubt that this state visit by PM Modi to Washington will be an epoch-making one as the two countries are coming ever closer in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
- G7 Hiroshima Summit: Leaders Stand Firm on China
- The Biden Administration Eyes the Quad as Key to a Stronger Role in the Indo-Pacific
- Japan and India: Leading the G7 and G20, Can They Shape the Global Order?
Author: Dr Rupakjyoti Borah
Dr Borah is a Senior Research Fellow with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, Tokyo. The views expressed here are personal. His upcoming book is "Beyond the BRI: Can India, Japan, and the US, provide an Alternate Model of Connectivity?" (World Scientific, Singapore)