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Biden and Modi hail new era for India, US relations

US President Joe Biden has hailed a new era in the US-India relationship after rolling out the White House red carpet for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, touting deals on defence and commerce aimed at countering China’s global influence.

The partnership was “stronger, closer and more dynamic than at any time in history”, Mr Biden said at a joint press conference with Mr Modi, and the economic relationship was “booming,” with trade more than doubling in the past decade.

Mr Modi touted “a new chapter” to the countries’ “strategic partnership” after the two leaders emerged from Oval Office talks on Thursday, where their differences on Russia and human rights were on the table.

Although the governments are not formal allies and India has long relished its independence, the US wants India to be a strategic counterweight to China.

Still, some analysts question India’s willingness to stand up to China over Taiwan and other issues.

The US has also been frustrated by India’s close ties with the Kremlin while Russia wages war in Ukraine.

Mr Modi is seeking to raise the status that India, the world’s most populous country at 1.4 billion and its fifth-largest economy, has on the world stage as a manufacturing and diplomatic powerhouse amid strained ties with neighbouring China.

Thursday’s media briefing was a reflection of contrasting political traditions, as it was the first time Mr Modi had taken questions in such a format in his nine-year tenure.

He took one question apiece from a US and an Indian journalist selected in advance.

Mr Modi’s visit to Washington was not without controversy.

His planned speech later on Thursday to a joint meeting of Congress, normally an affirmation of a visiting leader from an allied country, was set to be boycotted by a raft of progressive lawmakers.

As 7000 well-wishers gathered for a colourful opening ceremony at the White House, a far smaller group of demonstrators gathered blocks away to protest the US administration’s cosiness with Mr Modi.

For Mr Biden, the benefits of engaging with the world’s biggest democracy at a moment of increased tensions with rival China have outweighed both the costs and risks.

“The challenges and opportunities facing the world in this century require that India and the United States work and lead together, and we are,” Mr Biden said as he welcomed Mr Modi to the White House.

He promised to discuss human rights, freedom and the rule of law with Mr Modi, and said after their talks that they had a “straight forward” discussion.

Asked by a US reporter about what steps he would take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities, Mr Modi said “there’s absolutely no space for discrimination” in India.

A festival-like morning ceremony at the White House featured cappella group Penn Masala performing renditions of songs by the US group Maroon 5 as well as from movies featuring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

After Mr Modi addresses Congress, Mr Biden will host the Indian leader for a glittering state dinner on Thursday night.

US administration officials say sweeping agreements to be announced on semiconductors, critical minerals, technology, space co-operation and defence co-operation and sales will ring in a new era in relations between the two countries.

Some are aimed at diversifying supply chains to reduce dependence on China.

Others are aimed at cornering the market in advanced technologies that may feature on the battlefields of the future.

The United States has sought to address China’s rising influence in the region by bolstering military ties with countries like India, Japan, Australia, South Korea as well as countries across the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

-AAP

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