Biden will not ‘lecture’ Modi on human rights: White House

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US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to announce agreements on defense cooperation and sales, and investments in technology in India during White House talks starting on Wednesday despite US concerns about human rights.

Washington wants India to be a strategic counterweight to China and sees India “as one of the defining partnerships of our age” a US official said. Modi is seeking to raise the influence that India, the world’s most populous country at 1.4 billion, has on the world stage.

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When the US sees challenges to press, religious or other freedoms, “we make our views known,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. He added: “We do so in a way where we don’t seek to lecture or assert that we don’t have challenges ourselves.”

While Biden is expected to raise US concerns about democratic backsliding in India under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the issues will be decided by Indians themselves and not the United States, Sullivan said.

Among the expected business agreements were those in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and investments in India by Micron Technology and other US companies.

Modi has been to the United States five times since becoming prime minister in 2014, but the trip will be his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit.

Biden is under pressure by his fellow Democrats to bring up human rights with Modi. Modi is being warmly greeted by US CEOs, including at a Friday reception. On Tuesday he met with Tesla chief Elon Musk in New York.

Rights advocates on Wednesday called on Biden to publicly call out Modi’s human rights record, saying the approach of US administrations of raising issues in private with the Indian leader has not stemmed what they called a deteriorating human rights situation in India.

“It has not worked,” Zaki Barzinji, who served in the Obama administration as the White House liaison to religious minorities, said at a news conference in Washington organized by Indian-American civil rights and interfaith organizations.

Rights groups plan to protest during Modi’s visit.

‘Subtle shift’ on Russia

Both Biden and Modi are grappling with Beijing’s flexing its muscle in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

“This visit is not about China. But the question of China’s role in the military domain, the technology domain, the economic domain will be on the agenda,” Sullivan said.

New Delhi, which often prizes its non-alignment in conflicts between great powers abroad, has frustrated Washington by maintaining some defense and economic ties with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

Biden will bring up Russia and Ukraine ahead of the G20 summit later this year that will be held in India, Sullivan said.

A senior State Department official said there had been a “subtle shift” in India’s approach to Russia since Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin in September that “today’s era is not an era of war.”

Other Indian officials had challenged Russia for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity and over rhetoric on nuclear weapons in recent months, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

On Thursday, Biden and Modi will make announcements on the “co-development and co-production of military systems, including some very advanced systems,” said the official, describing this as part of a broader move by India to buy weapons from other sources than traditional supplier Moscow.

Washington accepts that India will continue buying Russian oil, as long as it does so “at rock bottom prices” below a price cap agreed by developed nations, the official added.

After arriving in New York on Tuesday, Modi led a celebration of International Yoga Day at the United Nations on Wednesday and called on people “to join hands together to realize the goal of one earth, one family, one future.”

Modi will visit the National Science Foundation with Jill Biden on Wednesday and have a private dinner with the president Wednesday night at the White House.

On Thursday, Modi will be welcomed with a colorful arrival ceremony on the White House South Lawn. Biden and Modi will meet in the Oval Office and attend a state dinner in Modi’s honor on Thursday night.

No joint press conference was planned.

“Across the board, I think you’ll see a combination of deep strategic discussions and practical progress, tangible progress in every single dimension of the relationship, all of it reflecting and reinforce the fact that this from our perspective will be one of the defining partnerships of our age,” Sullivan said.

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