US President Joe Biden will host India’s Narendra Modi for a state visit in June, it was announced Wednesday, as Washington courts New Delhi as a bulwark against China.
The state visit, the highest level of diplomatic reception, will boost the United States and India’s “shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific,” the White House said.
The invitation comes despite rising concerns about human rights and democratic backsliding under Modi’s Hindu nationalist leadership in India, the world’s most populous nation.
Washington has long sought to boost India as a counterinfluence to an increasingly assertive China in Asia – and New Delhi, worried about Beijing’s build-up on the other side of its border, has also sought to build ties.
But Ukraine has emerged as a stumbling point in the partnership. India, a long-time military ally of Russia, has called for an end to hostilities, but has never condemned the Russian invasion.
It will be the first state visit by Modi to the United States. He visited Biden at the White House in 2021 as part of the Quad summit bringing together the United States, Australia, Japan and India.
This time India is understood to have sought the highest level of protocol for a head of state. The trip will include a state dinner.
New Delhi welcomed the visit as “historic,” and hailed the chance to build collaboration with Washington and to “discuss opportunities to expand and consolidate the Quad engagement.”
– Asia-Pacific alliances –
Under the Biden administration, French President Emmanuel Macron was the first to be welcomed for a state visit, complete with military honors and a gala dinner.
More recently, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol was also hosted for such a visit, with the two allies issuing a stern warning to North Korea over nuclear weapons.
Modi’s visit will strengthen the two countries’ “shared resolve to elevate our strategic technology partnership, including in defense, clean energy, and space,” the White House added in its statement.
Education, climate change, development and health security are also on the agenda.
Modi’s government has been widely accused by political opponents and rights groups of seeking to target and silence critics.
Nonetheless, he is a leader much courted by the West: he will also be the guest of honor at the July 14 Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
Asked about the issue of respect for freedoms and rights, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden “never shies away” from having that conversation with leaders.
“We regularly engage with Indian government officials at senior levels on human rights concerns, including freedom of religion or belief,” she said.
Biden is working to renew or deepen US alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, amid growing concern in Washington about the fate of Taiwan – which China sees as its own territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The US leader is due to visit Japan and then Australia in ten days’ time, with a notable stopover in the South Pacific state of Papua New Guinea.
He warned on Tuesday that he may have to cancel the trip if there is no progress on difficult debt limit negotiations with the Republican opposition.