India and America are "natural partners" and the two countries have similar values, geopolitical interests, and our coordination and cooperation is also increasing, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he held the first in-person meeting with US Vice-President Kamala Harris at the White House on Thursday. The two leaders reinforced their bilateral strategic partnership and discussed issues of mutual and global interest.
The two leaders shared a stage as they delivered a joint statement as a prelude to their planned engagement. The leaders did not go into specifics on any of the issues that found mention, but their joint comments were noteworthy nonetheless as they highlighted key areas of cooperation.
Not everything is pink and rosy in India-US ties even as the two countries find it strategically convenient to ally in several areas. For one, both countries share a different viewpoint on the Indo-Pacific region when it comes to India's perception of its control over the waters. The US and India are also struggling to iron out differences on the trade deficit, taxation rules and immigration policies hardened under Biden's predecessor Donald Trump. The US pull-out from Afghanistan, too, has been counter-productive to Indian interests as a Pakistan-backed extremist government demolished a democratic establishment in one stroke. But Indian leaders have not made any comments directly connecting US action to what is happening in Afghanistan yet.
The India-US collaboration will see more progress tomorrow as Modi attends the Quad summit being hosted by President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, here's everything that transpired at the first Modi-Harris meet:
The two leaders exchanged views on recent global developments, including in Afghanistan and reaffirmed their commitment towards a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Twitter @PMOIndia
On strategic cooperation
Modi described India and America as "natural partners" as he met Harris.
"India and America are natural partners. We have similar values, similar geopolitical interests," Modi said in a joint media appearance with Harris, the first-ever person of Indian origin to be elected as the vice-president of the United States.
Noting that India and the US are the largest and oldest democracies, Modi said the two countries share values and their coordination and cooperation is also gradually increasing.
Both leaders acknowledged the vibrant people-to-people linkages as the bedrock of the mutually beneficial education linkages and the flow of knowledge, innovation and talent between our two countries. Modi said that four million people of Indian origin are acting as a bridge of friendship between the two countries.
Harris described India as a "very important partner" to the US and welcomed New Delhi's announcement that it will soon resume vaccine export. She also acknowledged that the two countries had shared values and beliefs which strengthened their relations.
On Coronavirus pandemic
Modi expressed his gratitude to the US for extending a helping hand when the country was hit by the second wave of COVID-19 earlier this year. Modi said that the US Government, companies based in the USA and the Indian diaspora were very helpful when India was fighting a tough wave of COVID-19 infections.
He said, "I extend my gratitude for the warm welcome that you have extended to me and my delegation. Some months ago, we had the opportunity to talk to each other over the phone. We had a detailed discussion at that time. The way you spoke to me so warmly and naturally. I will always remember that," PM Modi said. "It was a very difficult time when India was hit by the second wave of COVID-19. The way you expressed concern and extended a helping hand, I express my gratitude to you. I will like to thank you," he added.
Recalling his conversation with Harris in June during the second wave of the pandemic in India, he said, "A few months ago, we had an opportunity to talk to each other over the phone. We had a detailed discussion at that time and the way you spoke to me so warmly and naturally, I will always remember that." "It was a very difficult time. India was confronted with the second wave of the pandemic but like a family, the sense of kinship and so warmly you extended a helping hand.
"The words that you chose when you spoke to me, I will always remember that and I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart," he said. "Like a true friend, you had given a message of cooperation and full of sensitivity and immediately we found that the US government, corporate sector and the Indian community all came together to help India," he said.
Harris, on her part, lauded India's role in helping nations combat COVID-19. She said, "Early in the pandemic, India was a vital source of vaccines for other countries. So, when India experienced the surge of COVID in the country, the United States was proud to support India in its need and its responsibility to vaccinate its people... "
She also noted India's exceptional pace of vaccination given its vast population. She said, "I welcome India's announcement that it will soon be able to resume vaccine exports. It is particular note and admiration that India, I'm told, is currently vaccinating approximately 10 million people a day as of today."
The two leaders discussed the COVID-19 situation in their countries, including ongoing efforts to contain the pandemic through expedited vaccination efforts, and ensuring supply of critical medicines, therapeutics and healthcare equipment, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement after the engagement.
Kamala Harris noted that the United States was proud to support India during the second wave of coronavirus. "We had Covid-19, the kind of crisis and importance of our shared belief in a free and open Indo-Pacific region. On Covid-19, our nations have worked together," she said. ANI
Both sides acknowledged the importance of collaborative action on climate change. Prime Minister spoke about India's push for increasing renewable energy and the recently launched National Hydrogen Mission. He also emphasized the importance of lifestyle changes to promote environmental sustainability, the statement said.
"I know that India takes the issue of climate crisis seriously. We believe that the US and India working together can not only have a profound impact not only on the people of our nations but the world," Harris said.
Voicing concern over the threat to democracies around the world, Harris underscored the need to defend democratic principles and institutions in both India and the US.
As democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world, and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracy at home and it is incumbent to protect democracy in the best interest of the people of our country, she said in her remarks as she welcomed Modi to her ceremonial office.
"I know from personal experience and from my family of the commitment of the Indian people to democracy, and the work that needs to be done, we can begin to imagine, and then actually achieve our vision for democratic principles and institutions," she said.
Harris said that she looks forward to discussing how the two countries can continue to best work together to strengthen their relationship around their mutual concerns and the challenges they face, but also the opportunities that those challenges present.
According to Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, Harris also mentioned that US Congress was highly appreciative of the Indian democracy and noted that India and US represented the two largest democracies in the world. "There was a great deal of appreciation for how both our democracies functioned," Shringla said.
On Indo-Pacific region
Harris said that the United States, like India, feels very strongly about the pride of being a member of the Indo Pacific, but also the fragilities of the importance and the strength as well of those relationships, including maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.
"As relates to the Indo-Pacific, the US stresses on maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, Harris said, amidst China's aggressive moves in the strategically vital region.
India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military manoeuvring in the region
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.
On terrorism, Harris suo moto referred to Pakistan's role in perpetuating terrorism in the South Asian region. Foreign Secretary Shringla informed the press that Harris agreed that there were terror groups working in Pakistan. She asked Pakistan to take action so that these groups don't impact the security of both India and US.
Harris agreed with Modi on the issue of cross-border terrorism and said that India had been a victim of terrorism for several decades now. She also agreed on the need to closely monitor Pakistan's support for such terror groups.
Modi said that US Vice President Kamala Harris is a "source of inspiration" for so many people around the world.
"Your being elected as the Vice President of America has been such an important and historic event. You are the source of inspiration for so many people around the world," Modi said.
Harris, 56, is the first-ever person of Indian origin to be elected as the vice-president of the United States.
"Both President Biden and you assumed office at a time when our planet faced very tough challenges. In a short time you have had many achievements to your credit be it COVID-19, climate change or the Quad," Modi said.
"I am so confident that Under President Joe Biden and your leadership, our bilateral relationship will touch new heights," he added.
The Prime Minister also extended an invitation to Harris to visit India.
"Continuing on your journey of victory, Indians would also want you to continue that in India and wait for you to come to India and therefore, I extend to you an invitation to visit India," he said.
Harris was born to two immigrant parents -- a Black father and an Indian mother. Her father, Donald Harris, was from Jamaica, and her mother Shyamala Gopalan was a cancer researcher and civil rights activist from Chennai.
Prime Minister Modi arrived in Washington on Wednesday for his much-touted US visit. He had earlier addressed the Global COVID-19 Summit called by US President Biden. Biden is scheduled to host PM Modi at the White House on Friday. This is going to be the first in-person meeting between the two leaders after Biden took over as the US President on 20 January.
PM Modi's US visit will conclude on 25 September with an address at the United Nations General Assembly focusing on the pressing global challenges including the Covid-19 pandemic, the need to combat terrorism, climate change and other important issues.
With inputs from agencies