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India-US ties have got stronger, Modi & Biden eager to carry forward momentum — envoy Sandhu

In exclusive interview to ThePrint, India’s Ambassador to US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said both countries have reiterated their commitment to cooperation in Indo-Pacific region.

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New Delhi: US President-elect Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have vowed to “carry forward” the strategic momentum in their bilateral ties even as they reiterate their commitment to cooperation in the Indo-Pacific strategy, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s Ambassador to the US, said.

In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Sandhu said both leaders during Modi’s congratulatory phone-call to Biden last month discussed a wide range of issues from furthering the strategic gains that New Delhi has made with the US of late under the Indo-Pacific and Quad framework to cooperation in Covid-19 vaccines and economic recovery.

“India-US relations have seen steady growth over the past few decades and every administration has taken this relationship forward, based on a bipartisan consensus,” he said. “As you are aware, Prime Minister Modi was one of the few world leaders to have an early tele-conversation with the President-elect. During the call, both leaders reiterated their commitment to the Indo-US strategic partnership and discussed shared priorities and concerns including the pandemic, climate change, and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.” 

Modi spoke to Biden on 18 November, which was the first interaction between both the leaders after the latter’s victory in the US presidential polls.  

Sandhu said both sides also discussed that the “immediate priority areas” between New Delhi and Washington are going to be pandemic control, and economic recovery.

“Cooperation in pharma, healthcare and vaccines and ICT, innovation and start-ups would be key. Education, climate change, renewables including solar would also be important,” he said. 

According to Sandhu, the two leaders have always had a “warm and cordial relationship”. 

When Modi visited the US in June 2016 for a special address to the US Congress, it was Biden, then the US vice-president, who had co-chaired the joint session. Prior to that, during the PM’s September 2014 visit, Biden had hosted a lunch for him. 

Sandhu also alluded to the fact that Biden has on two occasions this year expressed support for strengthening the partnership — during a special event on 15 August, and in an op-ed piece in which he wrote that India and the United States “can and should be natural allies”. 

Also read: India welcomes UK’s ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ as Foreign Secretary Raab visits New Delhi

‘India-US relationship stands on own footing’

India and the US have recently made significant strategic gains in their bilateral ties. Both sides held their last round of 2+2 ministerial dialogue in October in which the last of the three key defence pacts were signed with the US paving the way for deeper military cooperation. 

These pacts are the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed in August 2016, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed in September 2018 and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which was signed in October 2020. 

“Our defence partnership is stronger than ever before. Both India and the United States support a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” Sandhu said. 

This assumes critical importance in the backdrop of the rising tensions between India and China. Bilateral ties between the US and China have been steadily plummeting, and aggravated under the Donald Trump administration.

“India-US relationship stands on its own footing. It is not dependent on India’s or US’ relationship with any third country,” Sandhu said, adding that the bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Washington is poised for growth. 

India, along with the US, Japan and Australia — which form the Quad group of countries — held a joint Malabar naval exercise last month after a gap of 13 years.

Also read: India hopeful Biden could restore GSP benefits, but free trade deal to be on backburner

‘Hardly any human activity untouched by India-US collaboration’

Ambassador Sandhu also said while both sides are now focused on a post-Covid economic recovery, the bilateral partnership is “critical in translating India’s bold vision for development into a reality”.

“India will play an important role in post-Covid economic recovery with a large market base and a young population,” he said. “There has been a greater emphasis in many parts of the world to diversify the global supply chain to reduce over-dependence on one country or source, whether in APIs or PPEs… India has seized this opportunity and it has taken concrete steps to create a conducive environment for investors.” 

Sandhu added: “There is hardly any human activity untouched by our collaboration. From economy to defence and security, from the knowledge and innovation partnership to people-to-people ties, we continue to work together in a variety of fields.”

In terms of two-way trade in goods and services, Sandhu said it has already reached $150 billion and is growing steadily. 

“With $20 billion in energy trade in just four years, the United States is becoming an important partner in our energy security,” he said.

“We will utilise these opportunities to expedite economic recovery in the days ahead… People-to-people ties, driven by the vibrant Indian-American diaspora number more than four million is one of our strongest links,” Sandhu added. “Overall, the relationship has seen increasing convergence of interests on bilateral, regional, and global issues. In fact, what both countries can do together is only constrained by the power of our collective imagination.” 

Covid vaccine race & climate change

Sandhu believes cooperation in the field of healthcare between both countries have become a key area now, and that the pandemic has opened a “new avenue” for deeper cooperation in this sector.

“Indian pharma capabilities are now well recognised the world over, including in the US. You might be aware that Gilead has entered into licensing agreements with six Indian companies to manufacture Remdesivir and supply it to more than 127 countries,” he said. “From diagnostics to therapeutics, there is a wide ranging collaboration to strengthen our medical capabilities and contribute towards global good.”  

The Indian ambassador to the US also said the focus on climate change is going to be huge with the Biden administration coming in. 

“The United States understands that India is a developing country that has taken a lead role in combating climate change,” he said. “We look forward to working with the United States in dealing with this global challenge, while expanding the range of solutions available so that we can continue to grow in a sustainable way.”

Also read: No consensus at WTO on India, South Africa’s proposal to waive IP rights on Covid vaccines


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