NEW DELHI (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in India on Monday on a trip that will focus on boosting trade and regional security ties and strengthening a strategic partnership that has languished in recent years.
Biden’s four-day visit, which will include a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is viewed as a major step in promoting President Barack Obama’s focus on forging strong partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region aimed at counterbalancing China’s power.
Biden and Indian leaders were expected to discuss hurdles to trade and restrictions on American companies doing business in the Indian marketplace.
Biden’s first stop after his arrival was a ceremonial visit to a museum dedicated to Indian independence hero Mohandas Gandhi.
It is Biden’s first trip to India as vice president. He visited New Delhi in 2008 as a senator.
During formal talks Tuesday, Biden and Indian officials will focus on ways to expand bilateral trade that currently stands at $100 billion, officials said.
In a speech in Washington on Thursday, Biden noted that trade between the countries had increased five-fold over the past 13 years, but there was no reason it should not expand five times as much again.
Despite the increasing trade, U.S. business groups have complained about the slow pace of economic reform in India and have urged New Delhi to open up its markets further. The Indian government in recent months has loosened rules governing foreign investment in some areas of the economy.
American businesses have been pressuring the Obama administration to press India for stronger intellectual property protection. New Delhi is expected to raise concerns about proposals in the U.S. Congress that would curb visas for high-tech Indian workers.
India and the United States will also discuss regional security, including efforts to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
The U.S. increasingly views India as a partner in developing Afghanistan, where New Delhi has provided $2 billion in assistance. Washington also wants India to play a more active role in training Afghan security forces as the U.S. and its NATO allies withdraw combat forces by 2014.
During the Cold War, relations between India and the United States were strained as America tilted toward India’s arch-enemy Pakistan and India turned toward the Soviet Union. Relations have thawed since then, with New Delhi and Washington signing a defense cooperation pact in 2005 and ratifying a landmark civil nuclear agreement in 2008.
More recently, the Obama administration has reaffirmed India’s role in its Asia-Pacific policy.
“Our goal is to help tie Asia-Pacific nations together — from India to the Americas— through strong alliances, institutions and partnerships,” Biden said in Washington last week.
However, Indian analysts said New Delhi would have its own questions over the new policy.
“When President Obama came up with his pivot to Asia policy, it was widely welcomed in India. Because the pivot was seen as an effort to create a balance against very aggressive Chinese policies,” said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the United States.
“Then the Americans moderated it by calling it a rebalance. And they have further diluted it by saying it is not meant against China,” he said.
“India would have liked a more vigorous stand on China where its security interests will be protected. So, this will be one of the issues India would like to discuss,” Mansingh said.
Biden will be accompanied during the visit by his wife, Jill, who will visit a U.S. supported public health program in Agra and then tour the nearby Taj Mahal.
The Bidens will then head to Mumbai, where the vice president will meet business leaders before heading for Singapore on Thursday.