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Key takeaways from PM Modi’s visit to the US | Worldview with Suhasini Haidar

In this episode, our Diplomatic Affairs Editor Suhasini Haidar discusses the takeaways from PM Modi’s visit to the U.S.

PM Modi travelled to the U.S. for a number of important meetings.

A bilateral with US President Biden, a delegation level meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris, meetings with 5 CEOs of US companies and of course, the main highlight of the visit: the Quad summit.

As Prime Minister, Modi has visited the US seven times in seven years – in 2014, 2015, twice in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021, and has met with three different Presidents- Obama, Trump and Biden, whom he met when he was Vice President too. This visit was watched particularly closely because:

1.      First big visit abroad (apart from Bangladesh visit) after two years- Covid Impact

2.      First face to face meeting with President Biden, though Defence Secy Austin, Secy State Blinken and Climate Change Envoy Kerry have visited Delhi

3.      First ever in person Quad Summit, first meetings with Japanese and Australian PMs. Also watched closely as just a week ago, the US announced a different coalition in the Indo-Pacific: AUKUS

4.      First meeting with Kamala Harris, who has in the past been critical of Modi policy on Kashmir, on EAM Jaishankar’s boycott of a meeting with US Congresswoman Jayapal over Human rights issues, the Delhi riots etc

5.      First visit since Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump public rallies, and administration change in US

What were some of the common themes to the meetings?

–        Focus on Indo-Pacific: The need for a free and open Indo-Pacific where international rules based order is followed was a common theme in all the conversations. There was no direct mention of China, or tough language seen in Quad meetings in 2019- indicating the Biden administration is taking a more diplomatic tack

–        Post Covid Recovery: Cooperating on countering covid and the post covid economic recovery was an important subject, and PM Modi was thanked for decision to start exporting vaccines from next month. In particular the Quad vaccine initiative, which will see 1 bn Johnson and Johnson vaccines  manufactured in India, funded by the US, distributed in South East Asia by Japan and Australia was discussed and leaders said it was on track. However, India’s demands, for vaccine indemnity from US manufacturers, and support for the India-South Africa joint proposal at the WTO for a waiver on patent rights for covid vaccines and medicines, did not find a mention.

–        Climate Change future: Quad countries agreed to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and to update or communicate ambitious NDCs by the upcoming UK conference on Climate change at COP26. This was a key ask of India from Mr. Kerry, who wanted India’s plans for 450GW of renewable energy as well as targets for netzero and ending coal usage for thermal power on the NDCs as well.

–        Afghanistan- Human rights and terrorism concerns. The language on Afghanistan was probably the strongest part of both joint statements and it was discussed by all the leaders in various meetings. In particular, they spoke of cooperating to implementing the UNSCR 2593, ensuring Afghanistan territory is not used to shelter or train terrorists, or to plan or to finance terrorist acts, use of terrorist proxies, cross-border attacks.

–        Democracy as a common bond:  Both Biden and Harris made a repeated mention about the need to respect democratic values- but the PM and the Indian delegation appear to have taken the comments in their stride – and there were no sharp responses. Harris ended her press statement by addressing the PM directly on “defending democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries”. PM Modi called those similar values, and invited Harris to Delhi.

Soft issues over Security- Both in the bilaterals and in the Quad, it seemed global issues like climate change, covid cooperation, technology, supply chains took precedence over the kind of tough language seen in the past on security. Some of this could be given these were first meetings for all concerned, and time was spent on laying the ground for future talks. Also, significant was the storm over the announcement of AUKUS just a week before, and the time spent trying to assuage France’s unhappiness over plans for US and UK to develop nuclear submarines for Australia. This was an issue India to distance itself from as well, with FS Shringla saying AUKUS has no link with the Quad or India.

Book recommendations:

A New Cold War: Henry Kissinger and the Rise of China. Edited by Sanjaya Baru and Rahul Sharma (includes a chapter by me)

The Avoidable War?: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict between the US and China by Kevin Rudd – Coming soon

Democracy Rules  and What is Populism?  by Jan-Werner Muller

The Light That Failed: Why the West Is Losing the Fight for Democracy By Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes

Flying Blind: India’s Quest for Global Leadership Hardcover – By Mohammed Zeeshan

Making India Great: The Promise of a Reluctant Global Power Hardcover –by Aparna Pande


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