Biden, India’s Modi Discuss Myanmar, Security Challenges Posed by China

Biden, India’s Modi Discuss Myanmar, Security Challenges Posed by China

U.S. president has yet to speak with China’s leader, but phone calls with allies have set the stage

President Biden spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, discussing regional security issues that revolve around China and the upheaval in Myanmar, the White House said.

The two leaders agreed to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, “including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity, and a stronger regional architecture through the Quad,” the White House said in a statement about the call, referring to the four-nation group that also includes Japan and Australia.

Although China wasn’t mentioned by the White House, increased Chinese patrols around Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea last year steered the democracies toward heightened cooperation. The Quad reformed in 2017 in part to address a rising China.

The Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The Indian government said in a statement the leaders “discussed at length regional developments and the wider geo-political context” and “reiterated the importance of working with like-minded countries to ensure a rules-based international order and a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”

Messrs. Biden and Modi also discussed the upheaval in Myanmar as well as Covid-19 and climate change, according to the White House.

“The president underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world and noted that a shared commitment to democratic values is the bedrock for the U.S.-India relationship,” the White House statement read.

On Myanmar, the two called for adherence to the rule of law and to democratic processes. The U.S. has called the military takeover a coup and threatened sanctions.

The call was Mr. Biden’s latest outreach to world leaders since taking office Jan. 20 and puts him closer to a widely anticipated talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr. Biden didn’t expect to speak with Mr. Xi until after talking with the leaders of India and South Korea and other potential partners in the region, a senior official told The Wall Street Journal.

Last week, he spoke with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He also spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. China was an important topic in those conversations, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

Mr. Biden “also discussed China in calls with his European allies thus far,” she added. “So part of our strategy is certainly engaging with partners in the region and allies, and doing those calls and engagements first, and also having consultations with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.”

Mr. Biden has already had a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Asked Monday why that call with a rival came early, unlike with Mr. Xi, Ms. Psaki attributed it to an approaching deadline on a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty that was set to lapse Feb. 5.

Former President Donald Trump strengthened U.S. ties with New Delhi, part of a strategy of pressuring China, which shares a border with India that was the site of a deadly clash last year. The Trump administration engaged in a minor trade skirmish while also signing military agreements and sidestepping domestic rights issues, such as the treatment of Muslims in a country dominated by Mr. Modi’s party and its Hindu-nationalist leadership.

The Biden administration has embraced a tough approach to China and sought to work with the Quad countries, but hasn’t signaled priorities for U.S. relationships in the region.

One potential area of cooperation is immigration. New Delhi has long sought easier visa and immigration rules in Washington, given commercial ties and the large Indian-American population, while Mr. Trump sought to limit immigration to the U.S.

—William Mauldin contributed to this article.

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