U.S. Courts India as Technology Partner to Counter China
American and Indian officials are working toward new partnerships in defense technology, advanced telecom and semiconductors.
By Ana Swanson
Jan. 31, 2023
Officials from the United States and India agreed on Tuesday to expand cooperation on advanced weaponry, supercomputing, semiconductors and other high-tech fields, as the Biden administration looks to strengthen its connections with Asian allies and offset China’s dominance of cutting-edge technologies.
The agreements followed two days of high-level meetings in Washington between government officials and executives from dozens of companies, the first under a new dialogue about critical and emerging technologies that President Biden and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced in Tokyo in May.
Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told reporters on Tuesday that the goal was for technological partnerships to be “the next big milestone” in the U.S.-Indian relationship after a 2016 agreement on nuclear power cooperation. He described the effort as a “big foundational piece of an overall strategy to put the entire democratic world in the Indo-Pacific in a position of strength.”
The agreements will be a test of whether the Biden administration can realize its proposal for “friendshoring” by shifting the manufacturing of certain critical components to friendly countries. Biden officials have expressed concerns about the United States’ continued heavy reliance on China for semiconductors, telecommunications parts and other important goods. In recent months they have clamped down on the sale of advanced semiconductor technology to China, in an effort to stymie an industry that the White House says could give China a military advantage.
Many companies have found it difficult to obtain the factory space and skilled workers they would need to move their supply chains out of China. India has a highly skilled work force and a government that wants to attract more international investment, but multinational companies seeking to operate there continue to complain of onerous regulations, inadequate infrastructure and other barriers.
Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Modi are also propelling closer U.S.-Indian cooperation in efforts to build out the industrial and innovation bases of their countries, Mr. Sullivan said.
The partnerships announced on Tuesday include an agreement between the U.S. and Indian national science agencies to cooperate on artificial intelligence and advanced wireless technology, as well as in other areas.
The countries also pledged to speed up their efforts to jointly produce and develop certain defense technologies, including jet engines, artillery systems and armored infantry vehicles. The United States said it would look to quickly review a new proposal by General Electric to produce a jet engine with India.
Officials also said they would work together to facilitate the build-out of an advanced mobile network in India and look for new cooperation in semiconductor production, including efforts to help India bolster chip research and production that would complement major investments in the industry in the United States.
The new dialogue would include efforts to work through regulatory barriers, as well as visa restrictions that have prevented talented Indians from working in the United States, the countries said.
But experts said India would need to continue to reform its permitting and tax system to lure more foreign manufacturing companies. And the United States would need to reform restrictions on transferring defense-related technology outside the country, they said, if it hopes to work with India to produce jet engines and other advanced weapons.
Analysts also noted that many of the technology partnerships would hinge on new connections between the countries’ private sectors, meaning that the agreements could go only so far.
India’s frequent purchases of Russian military equipment and close ties with Russia also present another wrinkle to the planned partnership. But Biden officials said they believed that the cooperation could accelerate India’s move away from Russia, to the benefit of its relationship with the United States.
On Monday, Mr. Sullivan, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and India’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, met with more than 40 company executives, university presidents and others, including executives from Lockheed Martin, Tata, Adani Defense and Aerospace, and Micron Technology.
“It has the potential to take U.S.-India ties to the next level,” Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said of the initiative. The trick, she added, will be “getting from potential and promises to outcomes.”
“Many of the decisions to collaborate or not will be made in the private sector, and companies will be assessing the business case as much as, if not more than, the strategic case,” Ms. Madan said.
India has traditionally been known as a difficult partner for the United States in trade negotiations. In the talks that the Biden administration is currently carrying out in Asia, known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Forum, India bowed out of the trade portion of the deal, though it has continued to negotiate in areas like clean energy, supply chains and labor standards.
But analysts said the Indian government was far more motivated on national security matters, and particularly tempted by the prospects of working with the United States to cultivate cutting-edge tech industries.
“We both have a common purpose here, which is the fear that China is going to eat our lunch in all the sectors unless we find areas to cooperate and collaborate,” said Richard M. Rossow, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.