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Indian Prime Minister Modi to visit the U.S.


The White House will roll out the red carpet this week for a crucial Asian ally. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet President Biden on Thursday, with a lavish state dinner also on the schedule. That same day, Modi will address a joint session of Congress. The Biden administration has made deepening ties with India a top foreign policy priority as it hopes to counter China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Seema Sirohi is a columnist for The Economic Times, one of India's most influential newspapers, and author of the book "Friends With Benefits: The India-U.S. Story." She joins us now to discuss the trip. Welcome.

SEEMA SIROHI: Nice to be with you.

RASCOE: The White House is pulling out all the stops for Prime Minister Modi. Why is this relationship so important to the U.S.?

SIROHI: Well, the U.S. has identified China as a competitor, as a rival. So India has become very important for U.S.'s Indo-Pacific policy because the U.S. wants to retain its No. 1 position in the region. India, which has China on its border, is in a very sort of border standoff situation for the past two years. So the interests of both India and the United States have converged on countering China, to put it very simply. And then there are many, many other reasons why the U.S. thinks of India as a major partner. India needs the U.S. for its own development. The U.S. needs the talent from India. As you might know, there are almost 200,000 Indian students in the United States, and Indian Americans are increasingly very, very important, both politically as well as in the economic arena.

RASCOE: And so what will Prime Minister Modi want from President Biden during this visit? Like, what are his priorities?

SIROHI: So for India, technology transfer is a top priority. Becoming part of the supply chains is another very big priority. Both countries trust each other, and they are building what they call resilient supply chains so that the world will not be dependent on just one factory that is China. There is a deal that might be signed for one of the major U.S. companies to invest in trying to create a semiconductor ecosystem in India. Another big deal that is likely to be announced is for the U.S. General Electric to co-produce its military jet engines in India. And that's a huge step forward 'cause India has long wanted technology transfer. In the past things have stalled because the U.S. hasn't been so amenable to that.

RASCOE: And so, I mean, you've been covering this relationship for decades, so how has it changed over the years?

SIROHI: What I can tell you is when I first came to Washington, India was not an important partner for the United States. Everything was about China and Pakistan, both of which are rivals of India. Then President George W. Bush changed dramatically the U.S. policy towards India because Bush's idea was why aren't the two democracies better friends? So India and the U.S. signed a major nuclear deal under which India was recognized de facto as a nuclear weapons power. Now people are comparing that transformative moment to today.

RASCOE: Prime Minister Modi has been accused of eroding Indian democracy and suppressing criticism of his ruling party. Do you think any of that will be raised this week?

SIROHI: It won't be raised in public, I would say - not by the administration, not at the White House. But you might see some comments from congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill. But right now, realism in terms of geopolitics tops human rights concerns, to put it very bluntly. Countering China is very important for the United States at this moment, and getting as many allies and partners in line on the American side is the main goal.

RASCOE: That's Seema Sirohi, a newspaper columnist and author of "Friends With Benefits: The India-U.S. Story." Thank you so much for being with us.

SIROHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.