President Joe Biden landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi on Friday. He was greeted by U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti and his daughter Maya, as traditional dancers moved to Indian-pop fusion on a stage nearby.
After the Bollywood-style welcome party, Biden journeyed straight to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence for an hour-long meeting, showing Biden’s embrace of India as a critical partner of the U.S., ahead of the Group of 20, or G20, summit taking place from Sept 9-10.
The G20 is a working group of 20 countries across Latin America, Western Europe and parts of Asia that have been working to address global issues since 1999.
It's great to be in India for this year's G20. pic.twitter.com/JBJUAuAYYb
— President Biden (@POTUS) September 8, 2023
Biden and Modi’s bilateral meeting
With India taking on hosting duties this year, it puts the country in a position to lead “an influential group that helps to set global policy,” said Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“It allows India to push for ideas — from climate action to global economic governance and food security — that are especially relevant to it and fellow members of the Global South,” he said, describing it as “a ‘coming-of-age’ moment” for India.
Vaishnav said it’s also crucial for Biden and Modi to meet after Modi’s visit to the U.S. last June. He said he expects the leaders to announce plans for collaborative development and production in defense and in scientific research, as the two “whip their respective bureaucracies into shape.”
Biden and Modi said in a joint statement that during their meeting they “re-emphasized that the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, inclusion, pluralism, and equal opportunities for all citizens are critical to the success our countries enjoy and that these values strengthen our relationship.”
Biden has visited India twice before, showcasing the importance he places on the relationship between the two countries.
Great seeing you, Mr. Prime Minister.
Today, and throughout the G20, we'll affirm that the United States-India partnership is stronger, closer, and more dynamic than any time in history. pic.twitter.com/bEW2tPrNXr
— President Biden (@POTUS) September 8, 2023
Aacharya Chandershekhar Shastri, a historian and journalist who is a resident of New Delhi, said in Hindi that he isn’t surprised about the U.S. president’s arrival. “India is a huge market that no country wants to distance itself from.”
“New Delhi is full of energy these days,” Shastri said, noting the excitement fueled by the international events and visits.
India makes huge investments for G20
India’s enthusiasm for the G20 was on display as world leaders arrived for the summit. The country has invested more than $100 million in preparation, while New Delhi has spent close to $500,000. Everything from street signage to G20 branding and extensive security was put in place, while encroachments were cleared or covered up.
“Authorities are working hard to ensure the safety, security and leisure of the guests,” said Vipul Sharma, another New Delhi resident who works for a gas corporation.
The city is on “high alert” for the next few days — traffic will be closely monitored and restricted while locals were discouraged from visiting tourist spots like Indian Gate or anywhere close to where the summit is being hosted.
All government agencies and institutions were instructed to remain closed. New Delhi has also deployed anti-drone systems in the skies and 130,000 security officers to man the roads.
While Sharma noted the buzz for Biden and the G20 event, he categorized it as a burden on the economy as tax dollars are spent to cover the costs of the summit.
Sanjay Chadha, an entrepreneur who lives in South Delhi, criticized the investments to make the city appear beautiful. “It feels like they gave a poor child very elegant clothes. How is Delhi looking? She looks good when she wears pretty clothes. But the goodness that comes from within is different,” he said referring to deeper-rooted problems, like income inequality.
Still, they all agreed the summit was an opportunity for India to promote its interests in business and technology. For example, India has made some advancements in space with the Chandrayaan-3’s historic landing on the south side of the moon and the country’s first solar mission launch, which Biden congratulated Modi for. This deepens the relationship as both countries prepare for a joint mission to the International Space Station in 2024 and as they coordinate on planetary defense.
China absent from G-20
During the G20 summit, international leaders work together on a final document, the Leaders’ Declaration, which defines the success of the meeting.
India’s G20 negotiator Amitabh Kant said that the declaration is “almost ready,” and will be recommended to other leaders.
But with the war in Ukraine, this year it will likely prove tough for countries to come to a consensus, as different nations have different alliances with Russia. And India wants Beijing and Moscow’s point of view to be included.
The situation is complicated further with China’s Xi Jinping not in attendance for the first time since he came to power in 2012, said Vaishnav.
Biden has already expressed his disappointment Xi chose not to attend but also alluded to using this time to forge closer ties with his Asian counterparts.
“I want a little more ... coordination. I think they both (India and Vietnam) want much closer relations with the United States and that can be very helpful,” Biden told reporters in Delaware earlier this week.
Along with Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also reached New Delhi, marking his first official trip to the country since becoming the U.K.’s first leader of Indian descent.
Prior to his arrival, he said: “It’s obviously special. I saw somewhere that I was referred to as India’s son-in-law, which I hope was meant affectionately!”
Sunak, too, got a Bollywood-style welcome.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will also be attending.
Contributing in New Delhi: Raj Poonia