United States President Joe Biden on Wednesday said that India, Japan, China and Russia are “xenophobic” countries that do not welcome immigrants, which is why their economies are not growing like his country.

“You know, one of the reasons why our economy is growing is because of you and many others,” Biden said at a campaign event in Washington. “Why? Because we welcome immigrants. Why is China stalling so badly economically? Why is Japan having trouble? Why is Russia? Why is India? Because they’re xenophobic. They don’t want immigrants.”

A day after Biden’s comments, the White House on Thursday clarified that the president had made a broader statement and respects his allies.

“Our allies and partners know very well that how much this president respects them,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

She added: “Obviously, we have a strong relationship with India, with Japan. And the president, if you just look at the last three years, has certainly focused on those diplomatic relationships.”

China and Russia do not share strong bilateral ties with the United States. However, Washington considers India a crucial strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region despite differences on human rights values.

An annual country report published by the United States government on April 22 had flagged “significant human rights abuses” in India, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests or detentions, and the surveillance of civil society activists and journalists.

US panel on religious freedom is biased, says MEA

India’s external affairs ministry on Thursday said that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal government panel, is a “biased organisation with a political agenda”.

The comments came a day after the annual report by the commission flagged India as one of the countries of particular concern in 2024. The list also includes Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia.

“In 2023, religious freedom conditions in India continued to deteriorate,” the report said. “The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, reinforced discriminatory nationalist policies, perpetuated hateful rhetoric, and failed to address communal violence disproportionately affecting Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, Jews and Adivasis.”

On Thursday, Randhir Jaiswal, the spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, called the report a propaganda piece.

“We really have no expectation that USCIRF will even seek to understand India’s diverse, pluralistic and democratic ethos,” Jaiswal said.

He also alleged that the report released amid Lok Sabha elections in India is an attempt to interfere in the voting process. “Their efforts to interfere in the largest electoral exercise of the world will never succeed,” he said.