India and the United States reiterated their commitment to defend the democratic institutions around the world on 8 February and agreed to continue their close cooperation for a free and open Indo-Pacific. During the first telephone conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and newly-elected United States President Joe Biden, the two leaders vowed to fight for freedom of navigation and territorial integrity in the region.
The reference to freedom of navigation may be viewed on the backdrop of increased Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
“The leaders (Prime Minister Modi and President Biden) agreed to continue 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.
According to the White House, Biden underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world and noted the shared commitment to democratic values is the bedrock of US-India relationship. He resolved that rule of law and democratic process must be upheld in Burma.
President Joe Biden reiterated that country’s commitment to winning the fight against Covid-19 pandemic, besides partnering on other key issues such as climate change, global economy besides others.
After the talks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter and said – “US president and I look forward to consolidating strategic partnership to further peace, security in Indo-Pacific region and beyond.”
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that prime minister Modi congratulated President Biden on his victory and invited him to visit India at the earliest. “They noted that the India-US partnership is firmly anchored in a shared commitment to democratic values and common strategic interests. They reiterated the importance of working with like-minded countries to ensure a rules-based international order and a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region,” the MEA said in a statement.
Modi is the first foreign leader whom Biden has spoken to beyond neighbours and key NATO allies, reflecting the significance his administration attaches to ties with India.
“The president underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world and noted that a shared commitment to democratic values is the bedrock for the US-India relationship,” the White House said, adding the two leaders resolved that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s military last week toppled the government and seized power for one year, detaining top political figures, including de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The reference to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity, is a clear reference to China’s aggressive actions in the region.
China claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory.
It has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
China has impeded commercial activity like fishing or mineral exploration by countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.
Biden and Modi agreed to stay in close touch on a range of global challenges and look forward to what the United States and India will achieve together for their people and for their nations, the White House said.
The two leaders had a very warm and wide-ranging conversation, India’s Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, said after the phone call between the two leaders.
This was the second phone call between Modi and Biden after the 3 November presidential elections and the first one since Biden assumed office on 20 January.
The first one was on 17 November when they reiterated their firm commitment to bilateral strategic partnership and discussed shared priorities such as Covid-19, energy and climate change, and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, Sandhu said in an earlier interview last week.