US, India to strengthen ties with defense, trade agreements
PHOTO CAPTION: Sailors with U.S. Naval Special Warfare, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Special Boarding Unit and the Indian Navy Marine Commando Force simulate treating a casualty while conducting a visit, board, search, and seizure drill during the Malabar 2022 joint training exercise, Nov. 8, 2022. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class MacAdam Kane Weissman via U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden aims to herald the start of a stronger U.S.-Indian relationship on Thursday by announcing a series of defense and trade agreements with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Washington attempts to counter China's global influence.
Biden is rolling out the red carpet for Modi, treating him to a colorful White House South Lawn arrival ceremony on Thursday morning followed by Oval Office talks and a glittering state dinner in the evening. The two leaders held a private, intimate dinner at the White House on Wednesday night.
In a rare gesture, Modi has agreed to take questions from reporters with Biden at the White House on Thursday. He has not conducted a news conference since becoming prime minister nine years ago.
Washington wants India to be a strategic counterweight to China and sees India as a critical partnership. Modi is seeking to raise the influence that India, the world's most populous country at 1.4 billion, has on the world stage in the wake of strained ties with neighboring China.
Senior Biden administration officials said the sweeping agreements to be announced on semiconductors, critical minerals, technology, space cooperation and defense cooperation and sales will ring in a new era in relations between the two countries.
Some of the deals are aimed at diversifying supply chains to reduce dependence on China. The United States has also sought to address China's rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region by bolstering defense ties with countries like India and Australia.
The two leaders will sign off on what one official called a "trailblazing" deal to allow General Electric Co (GE.N) to produce jet engines in India to power Indian military aircraft.
In addition, U.S. Navy ships in the region will be able to stop in Indian shipyards for repairs under a maritime agreement reached between the two governments.
The leaders will also announce India's plan to procure U.S.-made armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, the U.S. officials said.
"We have now entered really a 'next generation' defense partnership," said the U.S. official.
The agreements will include U.S. chipmaker Micron Technology's (MU.O) $2.7 billion plan for a new semiconductor testing and packaging unit, to be built in Modi's home state of Gujarata.
Combined with agreements on quantum computing, artificial intelligence and many more developed over recent months, Modi's visit may encourage more American firms to invest in India.
At the same time, Biden plans to raise human rights concerns with Modi amid worries about democratic backsliding in India.
One of the U.S. officials who briefed reporters said Biden will bring up concerns about press freedoms, religious freedoms and other issues in a respectful way without "hectoring, lecturing or scolding."
Biden is under pressure by his fellow Democrats to discuss human rights with Modi.
Rights advocates, who plan to protest during Modi’s visit, on Wednesday said Biden should publicly call out Modi’s rights record, saying the approach of U.S. administrations of raising issues in private with the Indian leader has not stemmed what they described as deteriorating human rights in India.
Modi has been to the United States five times since becoming prime minister in 2014, but the trip will be his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit.
Modi will address U.S. CEOs at a Friday reception, as American companies plan new investments in India.
On Tuesday he met with Tesla chief Elon Musk in New York, who said afterwards he plans to make the vehicles available in India as soon as possible.
Musk said Modi was pushing the car maker to make a "significant investment" in the country, adding that such an announcement was expected soon.
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)