In the run-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the U.S. next month, the White House has said that the Biden administration regularly engages with India on human rights and that U.S. President Joe Biden “never shies away” from having conversations on rights issues with other leaders.
The comments, made on Wednesday by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre were in response to a question on whether the optics of Mr. Modi being honoured at the White House were “problematic” when there were “obvious human rights concerns” under the Modi government and “clear differences” over the two countries’ policies on Russia and Ukraine.
“So as we do with other nations around the world, we regularly engage with — with Indian government officials at senior levels on human rights concerns, including freedom of religion or belief,” Ms. Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday.
“That is something that the President regularly does. We encourage all countries to uphold their human rights obligations, commitments, and to work towards building inclusive societies,” she added.
Mr. Biden is known to pride himself on a stated ability to work across the aisle in Washington as well as working with foreign leaders across the board, based in part on his years as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then Vice-President.
“As you know, this is a President who has had decades of experience of leader-to-leader relationship,” Ms. Jean Pierre said, adding that the U.S.’s relationship with India was an important one and part of how the U.S. moves forward in the region.
“And so the President believes this is an important relationship that we need to continue and build on,” she said.
“As it — as it relates to human rights, as I just laid out, this is a conversation that we have with other nations around the world. The President is never shy — never shies away to — to have that conversation with leaders,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.
The U.S. is playing a “long game” with India, its National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had said last June, in the context of India’s approach to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. has also, in recent years, become more circumspect about openly criticising the Modi government’s human rights record and the extent of its adherence to democratic norms, indicating that those conversations are going on in private and are two-sided. The U.S. sees the relationship with India as a crucial part of its strategy to counter China’s rise.