Rajat Sharma

Modi-Biden summit: India’s policy remains independent

AKBIn a significant virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden, joined by foreign and defence ministers of both countries, on Monday, both the leaders had “a candid exchange of views” on the Russia-Ukraine war. After the meeting, US officials said, “we are not going to tell India what to do (on Ukraine)”, but added, if India sees “tight links between China and Russia”, it will “obviously impact their thinking”.

During the virtual meeting, Prime Minister Modi told Biden that he had suggested direct talks between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents to resolve the crisis. Modi told the US President that he found the present situation in Ukraine “very worrying”. He told President Biden, “recently the news of killings of innocent civilians in Ukraine’s Bucha city was very worrying. We immediately condemned it and demanded a fair investigation. ..We have placed importance on the safety of the civilian population in Ukraine and the uninterrupted supply of humanitarian aid to them”. Modi said, he still hoped “ongoing talks between Russia and Ukraine will pave the way for peace.”

After the meeting, at the White House briefing, the spokesperson was asked whether President Biden “pushed for India to take a side”, the reply was, “India is going to make its own judgements…In recent days, India made some pretty strong statements in New York condemning the killing of civilians, supporting calls for an independent investigation. India is also providing humanitarian relief material to Ukraine including medicine and other supplies. …I think India will make its own decisions, but we are going to continue the discussions.”

On China, the White House official said, “..we know that India has concerns about the links between Russia and China. India, of course, is facing a very tense situation along the Line of Actual Control. And when India sees the tight links between Russia and China, that’s obviously going to impact their thinking”.

The virtual meeting between President Biden and PM Modi was followed by an in-person meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jayashankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, joined by US Secretary of State and Defense Secretary. After the meeting Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, it was important that “all countries, especially those with leverage, press Putin to end the war, and it’s also important that democracies stand together and speak with one voice to defend the values that we share.”

At the virtual meeting, Biden told PM Modi that buying more oil from Russia was not in India’s interest and could hamper the American response to the Ukrainian war. Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jayashankar later told reporters that the US focus should be on Europe and not in India, as far as buying oil from Russia is concerned. “Probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon”, he said.

On the India-China issue, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Defence Minister Rajnath Singh that America will continue to stand alongside India “as you defend your sovereign interest. China is eroding the security of the Indo-Pacific region from its contruction of dual-use infrastructure along Indian border to its unlawful claims in the South China Sea.” On his part, Rajnath Singh invited American companies to invest in setting up industries to manufacture defence products in India.

The US is raising the issue of China in bilateral talks because it wants to convey the message that both Russia and China have now joined hands, and it was in India’s interest to support the US on the Ukraine-Russia war issue. Power equation among superpowers have changed and along with this has changed the international foreign relations scenario. Equations between different countries have changed substantially and India has now started to express its opinion on international issues forcefully.

We should take into account the developments that have taken place in Europe during the last two months, after Russia attacked Ukraine. This virtual meeting between Modi and Biden has taken place in the context of India holding meetings with leaders from Russia, Ukraine, Germany, UK, France, Japan and Australia. Russian President Putin was the first to speak to Modi and he sent his Foreign Minister to Delhi. The Chinese Foreign Minister also paid a sudden visit to India. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy appealed to Modi to mediate and bring an end to the war that has been going on for nearly two months.

India, as a responsible world power, is trying its best to bring about cessation of hostilities in Ukraine. At the same time, it has decided to increase export of wheat to countries which are facing food shortage due to the Ukraine war. On its part, India is trying to keep a leash on domestic oil prices by importing it from Russia and other countries. Prime Minister Modi’s stand is quite clear: India will keep its own interests paramount while deciding its stand on international issues. At the same time, India wants an early end to the war in Ukraine.

Indo-Pacific region issues and matters relating to strategic and mutual economic interests. President Biden stressed on strengthening economic, strategic and social relationships between the US and India and mentioned how both the countries co-operate during the fight against Covid pandemic.

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