The United States is enthusiastically applauding India’s emergence on the global stage as it takes the helm of the Group of 20 summit. President Joe Biden, representing the U.S., is set to celebrate India’s achievements, even as policymakers acknowledge that the two nations may have divergent interests at times.
This year, India claimed the title of the world’s most populous nation, surpassing China, and ascended to the status of the fifth-largest economy, outpacing its former colonial power, Britain.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received accolades during visits to global capitals such as Washington and Paris, positioning India as a major power with an independent voice that has come of age.
“I think in some ways, Prime Minister Modi has wanted to make it India’s coming-out party to the world—as a major power, with its own independent voice, whose time has come,” commented Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, regarding the G20 summit.
The United States has long viewed India as a natural democratic ally capable of countering an increasingly assertive and autocratic China, with whom India has had disputes over their shared border. However, India’s refusal to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, owing to historical ties with Moscow, has put it at odds with another U.S. priority.
As the G20 summit approaches, India seeks to downplay geopolitics and emphasize consensus on developmental issues like debt relief and climate change. Simultaneously, human rights groups express concern over the Western embrace of Modi’s government despite alleged democratic backsliding, including attacks on religious minorities and media harassment.
Alyssa Ayres, a former State Department official instrumental in building U.S.-India relations, stressed that India’s unwavering commitment to independence should come as no surprise, given its history as a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War. She pointed out that India seeks ties with a broad spectrum of nations, reflecting its leadership role in addressing global concerns, particularly those of the Global South.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, has expressed a commitment to work with India to achieve success at the G20, including reforming international economic institutions. The United States aims to demonstrate the G20’s ability to deliver results while the BRICS club of emerging economies, led primarily by China, expands.
Aparna Pande, a South Asia expert at the Hudson Institute, emphasized India’s pivotal role in bridging the gap between the U.S. and the Global South, consisting of former developing and non-aligned nations. Despite differences, India remains an attractive partner, especially as China engages in outreach to developing countries.
Although Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are absent from the G20 summit, their non-attendance could work in Biden’s favor. While India has refrained from joining sanctions against Russia, Putin’s presence could have posed a significant distraction due to his isolation by the West and international arrest warrant.
The United States initially expressed concern about India’s stance during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but ultimately accepted it. Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center, suggested that Washington may view India’s position as advantageous for potential mediation efforts to end the conflict.
Regarding human rights and democracy concerns in India, Kugelman opined that the Biden administration is quietly apprehensive but has chosen to remain discreet. He emphasized that the U.S. values its relationship with India too much to risk imperiling it by flagging these issues openly.
As India leads the G20 summit, it marks a pivotal moment in international diplomacy where the U.S. celebrates India’s rise while acknowledging and navigating differences in their strategic priorities.