Jun 21, 2023 - Podcasts

Why the U.S. needs India now more than ever

President Biden welcomes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House on Thursday. This is Modi's first U.S. state visit and the stakes are high for the relationship between the two nations.

  • Plus, Hunter Biden reaches an agreement with the DOJ over tax and gun charges.

Guests: Axios' Ryan Heath and Alex Thompson.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Robin Linn and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, June 21st.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Hunter Biden reaches an agreement with the DOJ over tax and gun charges.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: why the U.S. needs India - and its technology - now more than ever.

NIALA: Tomorrow, President Biden welcomes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House in his first U.S. state visit which will include an address to Congress and a state dinner.

There’s a lot at stake between the relationship with the U.S. and the world’s largest democracy - especially as both countries relate to China. And a key part of that is technology. On this visit, Modi’s already met with executives like Elon Musk in New York.

Axios’ Global Tech Reporter Ryan Heath is here to catch us up on the U.S. - India relationship.

Ryan, first, how would you characterize the relationship between the two countries, especially when it comes to technology?

RYAN HEATH: It's extremely deep already. You have hundreds of thousands of Indian students studying at American universities. They form the backbone of a lot of American tech companies. 60 of the Fortune 500 are led by people with an Indian background, and huge American companies like IBM have between a third and a half of their workforce based in India.

NIALA: And where does China come into all this?

RYAN: Well, China has been building up its technical capacity for three or four decades now, and it's really challenging the U.S. for leadership in some key fields. Artificial intelligence is the one that everyone is thinking about at the moment, but it's, it's not just in AI, it's quantum computing, super computing. And the U.S. really wants to make sure and really needs to work with partners around the world to make sure China doesn't get ahead and be able to deploy those technologies for military advantage to become the biggest economy in the world. And so unless the U.S. and India team up and work with other democracies, China stands a much better chance of being able to leapfrog.

NIALA: How did the pandemic also expose the supply chain dependence that we maybe have had on China?

RYAN: Well, what we learned is when we go into lockdowns or geopolitical pressure rises and new export controls are in place, is our supply chains break down really easily, and if you depend too much on one country, and the world did on China, everything can fall apart really easily.

So India has been making a play to move production out of China and into India. Everyone is trying to both diversify their supply chain so they're not dependent on China, and also shorten it so that more is made at home or with your most trusted allies, rather than people who can flick a switch and cut you off.

NIALA: That said, one of India's key wants in this relationship has been technology transfer. Can you explain what that is and what India is looking for here?

RYAN: Well, India, let's not forget, is the most populous country in the world. It's still absolutely a developing economy, and it believes that it's been exploited for centuries by Western powers. And so India firmly believes that it's time for other governments around the world to work with it and help it get up to speed, help its population enjoy all of the comforts that Americans and people in other leading democracies have. And one of their tools for doing that is to say, hang on, we're not just opening up all of our markets and going for free trade. We want benefits to come along with that.

So in the same way that the American government might try and protect American workers when it does a free trade deal, the Indian government says, we want technology transfer. We want you to build some leading pieces of technology with us so we can then go on and build it ourselves later on down the track.

NIALA: So many of our tech conversations in the U.S. right now revolve around AI and fears about its capabilities. What do we need to know about AI and India's computing abilities?

RYAN: Well, India has an extremely developed tech sector, and it wants to be an AI leader, and it's kind of been missing from global discussions at the moment. We've been focused on the Europeans and the Chinese. And, people aren't really looking at India as the fourth player in that global system.

And so I think India really wants to muscle in, have its own path and it's trying to leverage investments that it's made over the past decade. So, for example, India has the world's biggest biometric database system, and that's built on their national ID card system, where more than a billion people have got digital IDs in India. So it's extremely advanced. They actually have a huge set of data and these huge systems that America and other leading economies can actually learn from or borrow from.

NIALA: Ryan, we've been talking so much about the technological importance of the relationship between the U.S. and India. How much of that economic need may overshadow human rights criticisms that many have levied against the Modi administration? Are we going to hear President Biden talk about any of that this week?

RYAN: Well, I think the Biden administration needs India and the Modi government knows it. So I think we're going to see relatively muted discussion around these other important human rights issues, because the threat that's perceived from China is simply greater. And that's a problem because the Modi government has advanced a lot of nationalist policies where it has targeted Muslim minorities in favor of Hindu majorities in the country. They have really tried to crack down on academics, activists, journalists. It's really been a situation of democratic backsliding. You'd think maybe having Kamala Harris, who has an Indian-American background, in the White House, this would be some kind of slam dunk political visit for the Biden administration, but it's just not. Modi has been very close to Trump, so this will actually be a quite tense visit.

NIALA: Ryan Heath is Axios Global Technology correspondent. Thank you, Ryan.

RYAN: So glad to join you.

In a moment the Justice Department’s years-long investigation into Hunter Biden may be coming to a close.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Hunter Biden will plead guilty to not paying taxes in 2017 and 2018 and will enter a probation agreement on a felony gun charge. That's according to court filings by the U.S. attorney in Delaware that were made public yesterday. Axios’ Alex Thompson is here with the big picture.

Alex, first, I feel like we talk about unprecedented a lot when it comes to former President Trump and his legal cases, which we will get to in a minute. How unusual is this case against a president's son, Hunter Biden?

ALEX THOMPSON: It's extraordinary that essentially Joe Biden's Justice Department is charging the president's son with a felony, and not just any felony, but a felony on illegally possessing a gun while being a drug user, which Joe Biden has made gun control a key part of his presidency.

NIALA: And so what does this case hinge on? There's both the tax evasion as well as this felony gun charge.

ALEX: Yeah. So according to the charging documents filed yesterday, Hunter Biden, while he was in the throes of an addiction to crack cocaine, brought a handgun to Delaware. And according to statutes, if you are a current drug user and you possess a firearm that is a federal felony.

NIALA: As a legal matter between Hunter Biden and the U.S. government investigation into him, do we know if yesterday's actions mean the matter is completely resolved? There's nothing else outstanding regarding Hunter Biden?

ALEX: Now, Hunter Biden's lawyer has said that his understanding is that this is it, that the other allegations about Hunter not registering as a foreign agent. The claims of potential illegal corruption by taking money from Burisma or from, you know, some of these Chinese deals, according to Hunter's lawyer, he believes that's the end of the DOJ’s investigation into any of these.

Now, that being said, he has admitted now that he illegally possessed the gun while being a current drug user. And, essentially what it means is that he's going to continue to be drug tested for a certain amount of time. Some of the early reports are, there'll be two years and if he relapses again, which he has claimed that he'd, he’d stayed sober for a few years, but he has to stay sober, otherwise he will be prosecuted for this gun felony.

NIALA: Have we heard anything from the White House or President Biden about this?

ALEX: They released a very short statement through a spokesperson that said essentially they love their son and are, you know, proud of him for rebuilding his life. And then did not say anything else.

NIALA: Alex, yesterday, a federal judge set a preliminary date for former President Trump's document case for August 14th. Can we expect that date to hold?

ALEX: Stay tuned on that one. The one thing I would say is look to history here, and that is Donald Trump, one of his probably greatest skills is delaying trials and delaying legal action. You know, maybe this trial date will hold, but I would be surprised if a lot of the other dates hold.

NIALA: Alex Thompson is Axios National Political Correspondent. Thanks Alex.

ALEX: Thank you.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! You can always send us feedback by emailing podcasts at Axios dot com or reach out to me on Twitter. You can also text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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