US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet his Indian counterpart and other officials on Wednesday before heading to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the China rivals seek to deepen their cooperation and iron out differences.
Blinken, in his first visit to the country since joining US President Joe Biden's administration, is expected to discuss supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, the security situation in Afghanistan as well as India's human rights record. read more
Speaking to a group of civil society leaders at a New Delhi hotel, Blinken said that the relationship between the United States and India was "one of the most important in the world".
"The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms including freedom of religion and belief . . . these are the fundamental tenets of democracies like ours," he said.
"And of course, both of our democracies are works in progress. As friends we talk about that."
Attendees included religious leaders such as Geshe Dorji Damdul of New Delhi's Tibet House, a cultural centre of the Dalai Lama.
Indian foreign ministry sources said ahead of Blinken's visit that the country was proud of its pluralistic traditions and happy to discuss the issue with him.
Modi's government has faced allegations it has suppressed dissent, pursued divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienated Muslims, the country's biggest minority.
Blinken arrived in India on Tuesday night and leaves for Kuwait later on Wednesday.