Hours after the G20 Summit in New Delhi ended, United States President Joe Biden on Sunday said that he spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the need to respect human rights and ensure a free press.
Biden made the remarks in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Sunday evening.
The United States president says that he and Modi had substantial discussions on how they would strengthen the partnership between the two countries.
“And, as I always do, I raised the important [subject] of respecting human rights and the vital role that civil society and a free press have in building a strong and prosperous country with Mr. Modi,” he said.
Biden described the proposed India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor as a groundbreaking new partnership that will “open up untold opportunities for transformative economic investment through that...entire corridor”.
A Memorandum of Understanding for the corridor was signed between India, the United States, European Union, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany and Italy on September 9. The project is part of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment – a collaboration by G7 countries to fund infrastructure projects in developing countries. The collaboration is considered to be a counter to the China-helmed Belt and Road Initiative.
The corridor will include a rail link enabling the transport of goods and services between India, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Europe.
On September 7, the White House had suggested that India dismissed its requests for better access for the media during the United States president’s visit to New Delhi. It had then said that he would address a press conference in Vietnam.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said it was logistically easier to hold the press conference in Vietnam. “As you know, when summits as the G20 happen, it is all-consuming, all hands on deck,” she said. “And it was just logistically easier to do it there [Hanoi].”
Criticising Modi for not allowing press access to him and Biden, Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said on Monday that it had no impact on the US president.
“Mr Biden is saying the same things in Vietnam which he said to Mr Modi’s face in India – on respecting human rights, the role of civil society and free press,” Ramesh wrote in a tweet.
Access to the media has been a matter of contention in recent meetings of Biden and Modi.
On June 23, Modi had taken questions at a rare press conference with Biden at the White House in Washington. In a question about the discrimination against religious minorities in India, Modi had defended the secular roots of Indian democracy.
“There is absolutely no space for discrimination...And when you talk of democracy, if there are no human values and there is no humanity, there are no human rights, then it’s not a democracy,” he said.
The press conference was followed by a wave of trolling of The Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Siddiqui as Hindutva supporters and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party attacked her as “the daughter of Pakistani parents” and for “echoing the claims of Islamists”.