As President Biden, PM Modi meet, GE clinches India jet deal

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President Joe Biden aims to herald the start of a stronger US-Indian relationship on Thursday by announcing a series of defense and trade agreements with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Washington attempts to counter China’s global influence.

Biden is rolling out the red carpet for Modi, treating him to a color-ful White House South Lawn arrival ceremony on Thursday morn-ing followed by Oval Office talks and a glittering state dinner in the evening. The two leaders held a private, intimate dinner at the White House on Wednesday night.

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In a rare gesture, Modi has agreed to take questions from reporters with Biden at the White House on Thursday. Modi has not conducted a news conference since becoming prime minister nine years ago and his visit has drawn attention to concerns over hu-man rights in India.

Washington wants India to be a strategic counterweight to China and sees India as a critical partnership. Modi is seeking to raise the influence that India, the world's most populous country at 1.4 billion, has on the world stage in the wake of strained ties with neighboring China.

Senior Biden administration officials said the sweeping agree-ments to be announced on semiconductors, critical minerals, technology, space cooperation and defense cooperation and sales will ring in a new era in relations between the two countries.

Some of the deals are aimed at diversifying supply chains to reduce dependence on China. The United States has also sought to address China's rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region by bolstering defense ties with countries like India and Australia.

The two leaders will sign off on what one official called a "trailblazing" deal to allow General Electric Co (GE.N) to produce jet en-gines in India to power Indian military aircraft. GE said on Thurs-day it signed a memorandum of understanding with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to produce the engines.

In addition, US Navy ships in the region will be able to stop in In-dian shipyards for repairs under a maritime agreement reached between the two governments.

The leaders will also announce India's plan to procure US-made armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, the US officials said. “We have now entered really a 'next generation' defense partner-ship,” said the US official.

The agreements will include US chipmaker Micron Technology’s (MU.O) $2.7 billion plan for a new semiconductor testing and packaging unit, to be built in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The US will also make it easier for skilled Indian workers to get and renew US visas.

AOC, Muslim Congress members to boycott

The flurry of deals and agreements comes as activists and some lawmakers have raised serious concerns about democratic backsliding in India.

Biden is under pressure from his fellow Democrats to discuss human rights with Modi. Three progressive Democrats, US Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have said they would boycott Modi's address to Congress on Thursday.

“I encourage my colleagues who stand for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of the press to join me in doing the same,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.

Biden will bring up concerns about press freedoms, religious freedoms and other issues in a respectful way without “hectoring, lecturing or scolding,” one US official who briefed reporters said.

Rights advocates, who plan to protest during Modi’s visit, on Wednesday said Biden should publicly call out Modi’s rights record, saying the approach of US administrations of raising issues in private with the Indian leader has not stemmed what they described as deteriorating human rights in India.

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.

Modi will address US CEOs at a Friday reception, as American companies plan new investments in India.

On Tuesday he met with Tesla chief Elon Musk in New York, who said afterwards he plans to make the vehicles available in India as soon as possible.

Musk said Modi was pushing the car maker to make a ‘significant investment’ in the country, adding that such an announcement was expected soon.

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