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Modi-Biden Meet: Setting The Agenda

Modi-Biden Meet: Setting The Agenda

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The much-awaited G-20 Summit is happening on 9-10 September. As the President of the Group, India will have the final opportunity to display its leadership and showcase quite a bit of its cultural heritage.

The city of New Delhi is splashed with posters, banners, festoons with careful selected evocative messages. Inhabitants of Delhi and the guests arriving for the occasion can savour them all as they drive along the streets. Attention of the entire world is focussed on what will transpire in the Summit, and more important, what will come out of the deliberations in the form of joint communiques and declarations!

To be sure, a few more laurels will be added to the Prime Minister and his team for seamlessly conducting the Summit. However, let us look at some of the red herrings and the opportunities that are associated with the Summit. One conspicuous development is the absence of Russian President Putin in New Delhi.

Although it was expected as the Russian ‘strongman’ is not stirring out of his country to evade impending arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, his absence will be felt. Even more notable is the mysterious refusal of Xi Jinping’s to attend the Summit. It has still not been explained why he is not coming as he has been present in previous G-20 meetings. Several theories are peddled about his absence from the Summit.
Be that as it may, the opportunities presented around the Summit for India are largely two. One, India may emerge as the voice of the Global South. New Delhi has commendably brought in the African Union as a new permanent member of G-20.It will add to India’s claim to represent the developing countries. Second is the Modi and Biden bilateral meeting on 8 September. Biden has gratuitously expressed his disappointment over Xi Jinping’s absence from the Summit. What he has not said and should be obvious is that he is looking forward to meeting Modi, as is the letter.

The moot question is what will constitute the agenda for the Modi-Biden meet! From the official sources, both sides have been working on an ambitious set of outcomes for the bilateral engagement during the Summit. These include a nuclear pact on small, modular nuclear reactors. An Academic programme tailor-made for Indian students, the drone deal, a defence deal on jet engines, a joint humanitarian aid for Ukraine, opening of new Consulates, easing of visas. Discussion on most of these was initiated during Modi’s state visit to Washington on 22 and 23 June. It is expected to move ahead on what was agreed upon.

India and the United States signed the nuclear deal in October 2008 but not much business collaborations have happened since. In the recent meetings, it has gained some momentum. Negotiations are on between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and US-based Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) for the construction of six nuclear reactors at Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh. Also, consultations have taken place between the US DOE (Department of Energy) and India’s DAE (Department of Atomic Energy) for facilitating WEC to develop the Kovvada nuclear project. The two leaders are expected to discuss bilateral cooperation in developing next generation small module nuclear reactor technologies for the domestic market and export. A nuclear pact on small reactors is in the offing.

The deal on jet engine, which was kind of the highlight in PM Modi’s state visit, will receive a boost. The deal allows GE Aerospace to transfer 80 per cent of its technology to India for the production of F414 fighter jet engines. This deal also entails the joint production of the said jet engines in India under the Air Force’s Light Combat Aircraft programme. Last week, the US Congress gave the green signal to Biden administration to pursue the jet engine deal. The bilateral meeting on 8 September should lead to the conclusion of the deal.

Ease of issuance of visa is also on the cards. During Modi’s visit, the in-country renewal of H-1B visa was announced. This facility will help thousands of Indian professionals working in the US to continue to stay without having to leave the country to renew their work visas. A definite date for this programme is expected to be announced during Biden’s India visit. Opening of the Consulates in the respective countries will also be pursued. Two new US Consulates — Bengaluru and Ahmedabad – are expected to be announced. A new Indian Consulate in Seattle is also expected to open.

For quite some time, there have been talks of reform of multilateral development banks to make them more accommodative of the developing countries. Biden is expected to push for reforms of such banks in order to enhance their financial capabilities, their ability to address the challenges of poverty elimination, aiding economic prosperity and addressing the climate crises. The other global issues like digital transformation, the responsible use of Artificial Intelligence and infrastructure investment may also come up. Modi may push for democratising the digital technology.

Two more geo-political issues that are of critical importance to each country will come up for discussion, although not reported so much in the public domain. One is the continuing war in Ukraine which is of utmost concern to the United States. The US National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan hinted that Biden will call for a “just and durable peace” for Ukraine and respect for the UN Charter and international law. He acknowledged that reaching a consensus on a G-20 statement on Russia’s invasion on Ukraine will be challenging as Russia is the part of the G-20. The second issue that deeply concerns India is Chinese belligerence on the borders.

Reverting to Xi Jinping’s non-attendance in the Summit, one could draw several inferences. While such an exercise may amount to speculations, what is crystal clear is that Xi Jinping is delivering a big snub to India by refusing to come. The meeting between Modi and Xi Jinping during the BRICS Summit was expected to lead to cooling-off of tensions between the two countries. It was not to be. On the contrary, China came up with a controversial map showing Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh as parts of China, also the territories of other neighbouring countries.

Prime Minister Modi should take this opportunity to impress upon Biden that the US should have a consistent policy vis-à-vis India-China rivalry. The Prime Minister also should commit to a strategic alliance like NATO Plus membership to safeguard India’s security interest in face of Chinese aggression. New Delhi should not have any more illusion of Russia holding China back against India. India has to carry its own cross for which strategic alliance is indispensable given the asymmetry between India and China. In concrete terms, the US should commit to letting India pick the weaponry from American arsenal to fight China should Beijing lose its head on the border. Let this bilateral meeting cement the partnership vis-à-vis China. —INFA

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