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Nov 9, 2023, 10:57am EST
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US-India talks will focus on a country not in the room

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
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The News

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with their Indian counterparts in New Delhi this week.

As the Middle East conflict escalates and the Ukraine war persists, officials instead will focus their talks on China — particularly how India and the U.S. can expand their security partnership, namely in the Indo-Pacific, over what they jointly perceive to be growing aggression from Beijing.

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Relations between Washington and New Delhi have been warming, particularly in areas of defense. Reuters reports that the two global powers will discuss ways that the U.S. can help strengthen India’s military and reduce reliance on Chinese tech, especially semiconductors. The two countries’ ties have emerged “relatively unscathed from recent global shocks relevant to their partnership,” Foreign Policy’s Michael Kugelman writes. The U.S. did not turn on India after Canada — a U.S. ally — accused the Modi government of being involved in the assassination of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil. And after the Israel-Hamas war broke out, India’s position on the conflict “has been nearly in lockstep” with the U.S., as the Modi government expressed solidarity with Israel — a shift from the country’s historical support of Palestine.

As U.S.-China partnerships in science wane, American institutions are increasingly looking to India for new collaborations with students and researchers. The two countries’ shared democratic ideals and respect for academic freedom make them natural partners, Diya Dutt, a Delhi-based academic adviser, told Nature. But the partnership faces barriers like bureaucracy and underfunding. Lengthy backlogs in processing U.S. visas have left many Indian academics waiting for more than a year to enter the country — impeding research opportunities and their chance to participate in U.S. conferences. The average wait time to get an interview for a U.S. tourist visa in New Delhi is 149 days, per the U.S. State Department.

However, some thorny issues between the two countries persist, including Washington’s concerns about New Delhi’s backsliding of democratic norms, India’s failure to condemn Russia for the Ukraine invasion, and the Modi government’s focus on multilaterism. ”India is not a U.S. ally, and has not wanted to become one,” Alyssa Ayres, a professor from George Washington University, wrote for Time in June, adding that Indian leaders have historically prioritized “foreign policy independence as a central feature of India’s approach to the world.” Though Modi is reliant on the U.S. for defense and technology aid, he is also leaning into many other partners around the world, Ayres argued, citing India’s leading role in non-Western alliances like the BRICS. “The Modi government invokes a Sanskrit saying, the “world is one family” (vasudhaiva kutumbakam), to frame Indian diplomacy,” Ayres wrote.

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