February 28, 2021

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President Biden had his first official call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, the White House announced.

The White House readout notes the leaders of the world’s second and third most populous nations committed to working closely together on the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific region.” They also reportedly agreed that the “rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld” in India’s neighbor Myanmar, where the military recently staged a coup.

One thing Biden and Modi did not discuss, however, was the massive farmer protests in India, which began after Modi’s government “enacted market-friendly laws to overhaul the country’s struggling agriculture industry,” per The New York Times. The government’s response to the demonstrations, which turned violent last month as police clashed with the protesters, has included arrests and cutting off internet access, raising concerns that Modi’s methods of stifling dissent are growing more anti-democratic.

Though Biden didn’t directly address the situation in his first chat with Modi, he did describe a “shared commitment to democratic values” as the “bedrock for the U.S.-India relationship.”

The call was also significant in that it may be a precursor to Biden’s highly anticipated initial discussion with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Washington-Beijing relationship is a priority for the Biden administration, but the president reportedly wanted to hold off until he spoke with leaders from South Korea, Japan, and India, which he’s now done. Tim O’Donnell

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