China’s actions bring the US and India closer together.

A top official in the US government said that India is a “great power” with unique security concerns that wants a relationship of respect and equality with the US. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is willing to take the relationship between India and the US into “fundamentally new territory” because of these things. The official said that the US is committed to moving the relationship between India and the US in this direction and that the two countries are coming together at a unique time with a shared goal and goodwill.

The senior official, who works closely on Indo-Pacific issues, also said that China’s border incursions have had a big effect on India’s strategic thinking and that both New Delhi and Washington are worried about Beijing’s provocative actions and have similar opinions about them.

The US also thinks that India is very worried about what Russia is doing in Ukraine and wants to become less dependent on Russia. The official also talked about what the administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy has done well so far and where work is still going on.

Where India fits into the US’s plans

The official told HT that India and the US are at a unique point in their relationship, where “far-sighted strategists” on both sides see that there is potential to take the relationship to the next level, “the proverbial escape velocity.”

“We are quickly building areas of common purpose in technology, and the military is becoming a bigger part of that. We have shared information with our Indian partners about border areas where tensions are high. We have worked on exchanges between people. Everyone agrees that the relationship between the US and India is very important. India would be the most important country for the US to build a strong, multifaceted relationship with in the 21st century, if I had to pick just one.

To do this, the official said, the US must recognise that India is a “great power that wants a relationship of respect and equality.”

“They don’t want to be a second-string player. They have their own security goals, some of which are the same as the US’s but also different. They want to work with Washington in a careful, respectful, and strategic way. Under these circumstances, PM Modi and his team are ready to take the relationship between the US and India in a completely new direction. And we’re committed to doing that.”

People-to-people ties between India and the US, which are helped by a large Indian American diaspora, are said to be a major driving force.

At the same time, the official admitted that there were times when things were different.

“There have been times in the past when the US and India had a different relationship because of bureaucratic meetings or other official meetings. It was cooler, sometimes uncertain, and maybe even suspicious. I can no longer see that. I think there are a lot more shared goals, a recognition of the strength and goodwill that each side brings to the table, and an understanding on both sides of where this relationship can go.

The official said that he was “extraordinarily bullish” about the relationship because he thought it could have the most long-lasting effect on world peace and prosperity. He also said, “I’ve been very pleased to find that most of my counterparts and interlocutors on the other side feel the same way.”

Even this year, there has been more high-level communication between the two sides. India’s minister of commerce and industry, Piyush Goyal, went to Washington DC to talk about trade. India’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, also went to the US, where he and his counterpart, Jake Sullivan, launched an initiative on critical and emerging technologies. In the next three weeks, Janet Yellen, Antony J. Blinken, and Gina Raimondo, all members of the US cabinet, are set to visit India.

This summer, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are likely to meet at the G7 summit in Hiroshima and the Quad leader-level summit in Australia. In September, Biden will travel to India for the G20 summit. There is also a chance that PM Modi will go to Washington DC on a state visit.

The official said, “We are determined to take important, clear, and concrete steps to improve things all around. This means finding partners in each government and sometimes persuading or working with bureaucratic forces in each government that aren’t sure what they want or are moving slowly towards the ultimate goal of a stronger relationship between the US and India.

Same goal about China

The official said that both countries are worried about China’s “provocative activities,” which are seen as the key strategic tie that holds New Delhi and Washington together.

“The border incursions and meetings between India and China have changed the way India thinks about strategy in ways that I don’t think many Americans fully understand or appreciate. And I don’t think the Indian government forgets that the US was there to help India when things were hard and dangerous. And I think we both worry about how Xi Jinping’s China is acting in ways that aren’t friendly.”

He also said that India and the US “compare notes” on many of China’s activities, including debt diplomacy, military engagements, and cyber activities. So, we have increased the amount of information we share and the number of times we talk.

But the official gave a more nuanced picture of these talks than is often shown by saying that both India and the US “want a long-term, productive, and competitive relationship with China.”

“We understand why China is a fact on the ground and needs to be dealt with in the right way. But at the same time, I think there is an understanding that our diplomacy will go better if there is a sense that the US and India face many problems from the same point of view. We have tried to do just that.”

This means talking “in a steady, purposeful way, without spreading fear and without sending the message that we want to encircle China.” Instead, the goal is to make it clear that both India and the US, as “time-tested democracies,” are ready to defend the operating order that has been so important for the “florescence of democracy and open market principles” and that we need to be careful to keep these things going.

“I think the US and India have sent many signs in that direction. China is a country that both the US and India have diplomatic ties with. In those situations, we’ve tried to be clear about what we want from our bilateral agreements and how countries should act when working together. Overall, the talks we’ve had with India about China have been about the same things and from the same point of view.

When asked if Taiwan could become a point of disagreement—for the US, preventing Chinese aggression in Taiwan is a top priority in the Indo-Pacific, while for India, the issue is important but maybe not as urgent—the official pointed out where the two countries agree.

“India has made it clear that they want peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and across the Taiwan Straits. In this way, almost all of the world’s big powers—Japan, South Korea, Europe, India, and Australia—are aware of the risks. They want to keep things as they are, and they want to make sure that nothing is done to upset the peace and stability in places where there has been a lot of economic and business growth.

A clear move away from Russia

A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, which some people thought would hurt the strategic relationship between India and the US, both Washington and New Delhi have found some things they agree on.

When asked how the differences were worked out, the official said it was clear that India and Russia had been friends for a long time. “But it’s also true that India has taken strong steps to lessen and cut back on how much it depends on Russian military equipment.”

Referring to PM Modi’s conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samarkand last year about this not being a time for war, the official said, “PM Modi is the only leader I know of who has talked to President Putin directly and on the record about what has happened in Ukraine.”

He also said that India was worried about what Russia was doing. “I think that Indian diplomats are ready to show how worried they are about what they have seen about Russian actions and atrocities in Ukraine. In the end, I see a change in direction. India is worried about how the war will affect the energy and food sectors around the world. But at the same time, I think that behind the scenes, they are very worried about what Russia is doing.”

He said that the US thinks India is moving away from Russia. “They are working to broaden and deepen their relationships with the West. The trend can’t be missed. Some people would like it to move more quickly. I would just say that there is an undeniable tilt and a recognition in Delhi of the worries about the Ukraine war and the desire to be seen more on the side of the West here.

Indo-Pacific report card

When asked how the administration would judge its performance in terms of its larger Indo-Pacific strategy, the official pointed out both areas where progress has been made and areas where more work needs to be done.

“First, the Biden administration has worked hard to work closely with our long-term security partners. That means Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand.” In particular, the US thinks that Japan’s decision to spend money on new military capabilities “will be stabilising in the Indo-Pacific” and is a move that the country has never made before.

Second, the US has made more formal and informal arrangements for regional architecture. The US agrees that ASEAN is the region’s “leading institutional framework.” The official then said that “informal gatherings” like Quad “could become the most important group of the 21st century.” “Taking that to the level of leader was a big deal, a very big deal. And one thing we’d like to keep going is how these four countries are getting used to working together. The Quadrilateral Security Group, or Quad, is made up of India, the United States, Japan, and Australia.

Third, the official pointed to the AUKUS deal, which is a deal between Australia, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States about nuclear-powered submarines, as a major hard security achievement. “It is very important that we are sharing nuclear technology in submarines with Great Britain and Australia in a way that we haven’t done with any other country in 70 years.”

The official first brought up climate change, saying that more work needed to be done to find “new areas of investment in alternative energy supplies” and make sure there is a “strategy for transitional fuels.”

The US also thinks that the ongoing negotiations about the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) are important. An official said, “This will be a defining year to see if we are successful in bridging some of the gaps on important issues like climate change, critical minerals, and investment protocols.”

Critics have pointed out that America’s absence from key economic and trading arrangements in the region is a big weakness. The official said that the US was determined to make it clear that it “intends to integrate carefully and strategically in the commercial frameworks and standard setting of the Indo-Pacific region.” The third area where work is still going on is working on technology issues with key partners.

“This is about a big change in the way the US government works as a whole. People agree that this area is important to the future of the United States and has a clear link to our own prosperity.

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