Modi meets Biden in Tokyo but refuses to toe US line on Russia, China
Published: May 25, 2022 01:03 AM
US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace on May 23, 2022, in Tokyo. Photo: VCG

US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace on May 23, 2022, in Tokyo. Photo: VCG

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has once again dodged an invitation by US President Joe Biden to openly criticize Russia at their bilateral meeting shortly after the summit of the four-nation Quad in Tokyo on Tuesday.

When addressing the media, both leaders laced their remarks with diplomatic bromides, hailing India-US relations. In Modi's words, the relationship is "a partnership of trust," while Biden said "there is much" the two countries can and will do together and he is "committed to making the US-India partnership among the closest we have on Earth. "

However, when it came to their remarks concerning global issues, the inconsistencies and differences between them became clear. 

Biden mentioned that they had discussed the ongoing effects of Russia's "brutal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine," and the effect it has had on the global world order. The US leader vowed that "the US and India are going to continue consulting closely on how to mitigate these negative effects."

But Modi dodged the topic and did not address the issue. 

Similarly, in a readout of the two leaders' meeting that was officially released on the White House website right after the event, it said that "President Biden condemned Russia's unjustifiable war against Ukraine," and it appeared to be Biden alone.

Modi only added his voice at the part where the leaders discussed providing humanitarian assistance, and managing disruptions such as the rise in energy and food prices.

Chinese analysts found this unsurprising, saying that New Delhi will protect its autonomy.

Modi has been unwavering in his interactions with Biden, including their virtual meeting in March 2022 and blindly following the US over the matter is clearly not in line with India's best interests, said Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, on Tuesday.

Qian told the Global Times it also shows India's position as an independent global power.

China was not mentioned in either the readout statement nor the two leaders' public address, although the Quad is designed to form a unified front to counter China.

India would have made the best use of its bilateral talks with the US, according to Zhao Gancheng, director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. India wants Washington to give more actual benefits such as better market access, Zhao noted. 

Zhao said the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework freshly launched by Biden ahead of the Quad summit in which India is an initial participant, failed to satisfy India's hope for actual benefits from its ties with the US. 

Though China was not mentioned in the readout or in the Quad leaders' public address, it would very likely have been mentioned in closed-door discussions, as India needs to show its value to the US in Washington's strategy of countering China in the region, and India would name its price in return, analysts said.

India believes it can handle its problems with China on its own via the established bilateral dialogue mechanism. Inviting external powers to intervene in its border issues with China would compromise its image as a global power, Qian noted.

Citing senior officials, India's NDTV reported on Tuesday that Biden nevertheless drew a parallel between "India's success and China's failure" to handle the pandemic, while both countries are of comparable size.

During a closed session at the Quad summit, Biden said that Modi's success has shown the world that "democracies can deliver, and busted that myth that autocracies like China and Russia can handle the rapidly changing world better," NDTV quoted the unnamed senior official as saying. 

This fiction is not based on any facts and Biden is obviously courting Modi, Zhao said. "Biden himself would not have believed such words. I mean come on. China has the best record in combating the pandemic among major countries."

The US has no qualification to comment on others' pandemic control efforts, as it has had the world's largest number of deaths from COVID-19, Qian said.

Modi was smart not to be fooled by Biden's compliments, or he would have faced criticism from domestic society, as the Indian public remembers when the South Asian nation was in serious difficulties from the pandemic in 2021. At the time, the US acted in a selfish and indifferent way with its refusal to supply more vaccines to India or to lift the embargo on exports of raw materials needed to ramp up local vaccine production.