Biden, Modi pledge cooperation as both deal with China

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.