Modi-Biden agree to strengthen security

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WASHINGTON: In a first telephone contact on Monday night, the US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to strengthen Indo-Pacific security through the Quad grouping of countries that is seen as a way to push back against China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

India, United States, Japan and Australia are members of the Quad, an informal group that Washington has been promoting to work as a potential bulwark against China’s increasing political, commercial and military activity in the Indo-Pacific, diplomats say.Biden spoke to Modi on Monday night in his first call since taking office last month and noted that India-US ties were held together by a shared commitment to democratic values.

“The leaders agreed to continuing close cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity, and a stronger regional architecture through the Quad,” the White House said in a statement.

China has denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development and urged the United States to drop its “Cold War mentality”.

Last year, the four countries held joint naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal after New Delhi dropped its hesitation for fear of antagonising Beijing.

Modi told Biden he would work to elevate the strategic partnership between the two countries, the Indian foreign ministry said in its readout of the call.

Narendra Modi, Joe Biden

India is locked in a military standoff with China over their disputed mountainous border since April and public opinion has hardened against Beijing after soldiers were killed in a clash there.

Japan’s Sankei newspaper reported over the weekend that the leaders of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia plan to hold a summit, in a further tightening of ties between the four powerful democracies.

Biden and Modi also agreed to work closely to fight Covid-19, renew their partnership on climate change and defend democratic institution and norms around the world, including in Myanmar, where the military seized power last week.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden. It was the first conversation between the two leaders since Mr. Biden took office on January 20. 

“We discussed regional issues and our shared priorities. We also agreed to further our co-operation against climate change. President Biden 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,” said Mr. Modi in a message after the call. 

The reference to the “rules based international order” is consistent with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s telephonic talk with Yang Jiechi, his counterpart in Beijing. Mr. Blinken said during the weekend that the U.S. will “stand up” for democratic values and “hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system”.

The conversation between the Indian PM and the U.S. President was held in the backdrop of a series of messages from American celebrities in support of the ongoing protest by the Indian farmers against the new farm laws. Following the crackdown against the farmers, the U.S. State Department had come out on February 4 in support of the right to peaceful protests by the farmers.

This was followed by the comment from Congressman Brad Sherman, co-chair of the India Caucus, in the U.S. House of Representatives who urged the Indian government to ensure “norms of democracy” are maintained while the farmers are allowed to protest peacefully. He also supported the farmers’ right to access the Internet.