Indian Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to Washington: A Must-Know Insight

PM Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington D.C. holds exceptional significance as he prepares to engage in an official state visit with U.S. President Joe Biden. The visit entails a grand welcome on the South Lawn, an esteemed state dinner, and an address to a joint session of Congress, a rare honor extended to only a select few foreign leaders. This remarkable diplomatic reception places Modi in the esteemed company of President Biden’s prior guests, including France’s Emmanuel Macron and South Korea’s Yoon Suk Yeol.

Although Prime Minister Modi has made numerous visits to the United States, including a notable three-day trip in September 2021, during which he held productive bilateral discussions with President Biden, this visit represents a pivotal milestone. It marks the first time that the Prime Minister’s trip attains the highest level of recognition within the diplomatic protocol. Notably, the last state visit by an Indian leader to the U.S. was accomplished by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2009.

Amidst India’s emergence as the world’s most populous nation, a rapidly growing economy, and a leading force in technology and innovation, the Biden Administration recognizes its potential to serve as a vital ally in countering China’s expanding influence within the Indo-Pacific region. With India’s prominence taking center stage, the administration aims to foster stronger ties, viewing the country as a key partner in addressing the strategic challenges posed by China’s ascent.

In a statement, the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized that the visit between the two leaders will reinforce the shared dedication of both countries towards fostering a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific region. Furthermore, the visit will underscore their joint determination to enhance the strategic technology partnership, encompassing areas such as defense, clean energy, and space. The statement highlights the commitment of both nations to deepen collaboration in these crucial sectors, emphasizing the importance of a strengthened alliance in addressing common challenges and pursuing mutual goals.

What are the top priorities for Modi’s state visit?

During the state visit, significant discussions will take place with the aim of strengthening the already burgeoning defense and manufacturing partnership between the United States and India. Recent engagements between Washington and New Delhi have centered around collaborative efforts in the production of jet engines, long-range artillery, and military vehicles. In May, India became a member of President Biden’s 14-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which seeks to address China’s economic dominance in manufacturing without establishing a formal trade agreement. General Electric, an American company, now seeks to engage in the co-production of military jets in India, while the United States has increased its investments in India’s semiconductor and chip manufacturing ecosystem to reduce dependence on Chinese manufacturing.

Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia Program at Carnegie, highlights the United States’ focus on countering the Chinese challenge, with significant emphasis placed on semiconductors and chip manufacturing where India is currently a major player.

In the lead-up to Prime Minister Modi’s visit, both U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have made trips to New Delhi, aiming to navigate bureaucratic processes and secure important agreements. This proactive approach demonstrates the commitment of both nations to expeditiously advance mutually beneficial deals.

Recent reports from Reuters reveal that India is moving closer to acquiring over two dozen U.S.-made armed drones worth $2 to $3 billion, aimed at bolstering border surveillance and enhancing counterterrorism intelligence operations. This development follows the unveiling of an ambitious roadmap for Indo-U.S. collaboration in high-technology sectors such as semiconductors, next-generation telecommunications, artificial intelligence, and defense, by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

For India, forging deals with the United States would not only enhance its hard power capabilities but also position the country as a hub for innovation. According to Milan Vaishnav, there is a desire to attract more U.S. investment, companies, and entrepreneurs to make India a central component of their growth and expansion plans.

The shared motivation to counter China’s influence lies in the convergence of strategic interests between the United States and India. China’s increasing assertiveness and ambition on the global stage have made it the United States’ primary competitor in terms of influence. Meanwhile, India has been engaged in territorial disputes in the Himalayas since a brief war with China in 1962.

Tensions between India and China escalated in 2020 when Beijing became more assertive in its land claims along the shared Himalayan border. An altercation between Indian and Chinese military forces in the Ladakh region reportedly resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers. India also harbors concerns over China’s close relationship with Pakistan, particularly the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which controversially passes through a section of Kashmir controlled by Islamabad. These factors contribute to India’s need to counter China’s influence and assertiveness in the region.

According to Milan Vaishnav, Washington’s support in strengthening India’s economic and defense capacities stems from its desire to collaborate with New Delhi in addressing global challenges and furthering long-term interests. The aim is to establish a framework of deterrence to discourage Chinese expansionism, with India considered a crucial element in this strategy. Vaishnav highlights that Washington sees India as a linchpin in deterring Chinese ambitions and views close coordination with India as pivotal to creating an effective deterrent framework against China’s expansionist tendencies. By bolstering India’s capabilities, the United States aims to enhance its partnership with India and create a united front in dealing with global challenges and curbing Chinese influence.

How has the relationship between India and the U.S. changed?

President Joe Biden gestures with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali, on Nov. 15, 2022. (Doug Mills—Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

The relationship between India and the United States has undergone significant changes over the years. Following India’s independence from British rule in 1947, India leaned towards closer alignment with Russia during the Cold War due to U.S. skepticism and estrangement caused by India’s nuclear program, while the U.S. maintained a stronger partnership with India’s rival, Pakistan.

It was not until the early 1990s that the two countries began to move past their status as “estranged democracies,” as described by former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Kux. Since the early 2000s, successive U.S. administrations, from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, have actively sought to cultivate a strong relationship with India, recognizing its potential as a strategic partner in safeguarding the security of the Indo-Pacific region.

In 2005, India and the U.S. signed a significant nuclear deal that effectively acknowledged India as a nuclear weapons power. More recently, India’s participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a security alliance between the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India, has positioned the country as a crucial element in American defense strategy.

Joint military exercises between India and the U.S. have been conducted near the disputed Indo-China border, demonstrating the deepening defense cooperation between the two nations. Additionally, in May, both countries joined President Biden’s 14-member Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which aims to reduce American reliance on Chinese manufacturing. This framework holds the potential for mutual benefit, including increased iPhone shipments from factories based in India.

These developments reflect the evolving partnership between India and the United States, with both countries recognizing the importance of strategic collaboration, defense cooperation, and economic ties to address regional security concerns and reduce dependence on Chinese manufacturing.