WASHINGTON: The relentless US effort to cajole New Delhi into its sphere of influence will continue with yet another meeting between President Joe Biden and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Quad summit in Tokyo in May.
The White House confirmed on Wednesday that Biden will travel to South Korea and Japan May 20-24 for a bilateral visit to the former followed by the QUAD in Japan, during which he will also meet Modi. “This trip will advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s rock-solid commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
The US President has met Modi several times, most recently in a virtual setting, but has been unable to budge him from a fiercely independent foreign policy stand that does not always align itself with Washington’s outlook or goals. Both during their previous quad meeting in Australia and the virtual bilateral exchanges on April 11, there was daylight between the two sides on the Russia-Ukraine war, with the US and its treaty allies Japan and Australia bringing the Russia-Ukraine issue onto the Quad agenda and India demurring and declining to toe the US line.
Despite the rebuff, the Biden administration has cut India plenty of slack, keeping a long-term view — and China — in mind. At a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken mollified a lawmaker who spoke of frustration over differences between the two sides.
“What I see before us is very frustrating in the short-term… when we have our differences… and you deal with that every day,” Senator William Hagerty said, hoping that in the long-term, “the strategic partnership that we have with India I think poses the opportunity to do more good in the 21st century.”
Blinken concurred, saying “there is a growing strategic convergence between the United States and India” that Washington was not able to bring about before, and the partnership has the potential to be “one of the most important and foundational partnerships that we have going forward over the next decades.” China, he added, was a big part of the makeover.
“We have energised the Quad that brings India together with Australia and Japan and us. This has been a very important vehicle for strengthening our collaboration across a whole variety of fronts with India,” Blinken said.
But for now, Russia remains front and central in US concerns, and despite New Delhi’s insistence that the Russia-Ukraine scrap is kept out of Quad deliberations, Washington is intent on bringing it up, with the support of Japan and Australia.
Despite New Delhi’s reluctance to bail out on Russia, Blinken suggested the US was now in a position to weaken the ties, saying for India, Moscow “was out of necessity a partner of choice when we were not in a position to be a partner.”
“What’s interesting is this is a moment of strategic inflection, by which I mean this. A number of countries are now relooking at some of their relationships and some of their interests, particularly when it comes to their relationship with Russia,” Blinken said.