President Joe Biden spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, with the leaders of the world's two biggest democracies agreeing to strengthen their nations' partnership at a moment when both countries face strained relations with China.
India is in the midst of a 9-monthslong military standoff with China along their disputed border in eastern Ladakh. Tens of thousands of soldiers are facing each other at friction points in the region in sub-zero temperatures. At the same time, Biden is determined to depart from former President Donald Trump's hot-and-cold relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump alternately courted and cajoled Beijing, pressing for a major trade agreement while downplaying China's efforts to squelch pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. Trump also initially assured Americans that China had the coronavirus “very well under control” before later blaming the Chinese government — often using xenophobic language — for being responsible for the worst public health crisis in the U.S. in more than a century.
The White House said in a statement that Biden and Modi “agreed to continuing close cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific" and added that the leaders “resolved that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld" in Myanmar, days after a military coup in the southeast Asian nation.
Biden and Modi are no strangers. As a senator, Biden was an important advocate of the 2008 civil nuclear deal between the countries.
The 2008 nuclear accord paved the way for the supply of U.S. high-tech equipment that India wanted along with the technology. The accord ended India’s isolation after it conducted nuclear tests in 1998 and refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States is also supporting India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a move that has been blocked by China.
Modi wrote on Twitter that he wished Biden success as he launches his administration.
“President @JoeBiden and I are committed to a rules-based international order. We look forward to consolidating our strategic partnership to further peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond," Modi tweeted.
Modi also had a warm relationship with Trump.
Trump last year, weeks before the pandemic locked down much of the globe, made a two-day visit to India that included a raucous rally at a 110,000-seat cricket stadium. The Republican president hosted Modi in 2019 in the U.S., a visit that included a side trip to Houston that drew about 50,000 people, many from the large Indian diaspora in the U.S.
Associated Press writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.