New Delhi: India is hoping its Covid vaccine supplies will get a new push following External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to the US last week as New Delhi and Washington were able to “iron out” supply chain bottlenecks and issues around indemnity, multiple sources told ThePrint.
Discussions around China and Afghanistan also made considerable progress, ThePrint has learnt.
Jaishankar began his visit to the US last Monday with the primary focus of pushing ahead the health cooperation agenda both at the bilateral level as well as under the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, with the procurement of vaccines as the main issue.
Over the past week in New York and Washington DC, Jaishankar was able to meet a cross-section of key people in the Joe Biden administration as he furthered the agenda of procurement and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines that the US has vowed to provide to India, top-level sources said.
According to the sources, Jaishankar’s first in-person visit to the US after the Biden administration came to power enabled both sides to have wide-ranging discussions on some of the issues where “differences were growing bigger” with the US. These are issues related to supply-chain bottlenecks that were impeding the smooth supplies of raw materials for vaccines as well as issues concerning indemnity and liability.
During his meeting with the officials there, the sources said, Jaishankar also had detailed discussions on the Defence Production Act that was proving to be a stumbling block for the supply of raw materials for vaccine production.
While the US has already made it clear that India will be one of the countries that will receive the Covid-19 vaccines out of the 80 million doses earmarked for exports by US President Biden, Jaishankar is believed to have focussed more on “making it easy” for the American vaccine makers to come and invest in India and locally produce the vaccines, the sources said.
As the export of vaccines, including 20 million AstraZeneca doses and 60 million shots of other approved vaccines, will take some time, the Biden administration has plans to boost production in India as it is in touch with multiple vaccine manufacturers in the country.
During Jaishankar’s meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, sources said, the US “assured” India that it remains a priority for Washington when it comes to vaccines, including the understanding that both have reached under the Quad framework.
According to Dean Thompson, Acting Assistant Secretary (Bureau of South and Central Affairs), US State Department, during the meeting both sides touched upon “the real questions of vaccine production, distribution, manufacturing, and the critical work to organize it to save lives on the ground.”
Thompson also said both Jaishankar and Blinken discussed “vaccine manufacturing procurement, delivery — the larger question of how we can cooperate together both bilaterally and on the larger Quad context”.
During his interaction with former US NSA General H.R. McMaster at an event, Jaishankar said: “We can’t have a world which is part vaccinated and part neglected, because that was not going to be safe. So how do we get through the global challenges in a global way?”
The issue of waiving intellectual property rights protection from Covid vaccines was also discussed during Jaishankar’s meeting with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, sources said. The matter is going to be now discussed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva.
Great to host @DrSJaishankar at USTR. I look forward to maintaining communication with our Indian counterparts as we battle COVID-19 and continue to pursue economic recovery to our countries. pic.twitter.com/Ng1cjhvyAH
— Ambassador Katherine Tai (@AmbassadorTai) May 28, 2021
“During EAM Jaishankar’s visit to the United States, under the new administration, foreign policy occupied center stage during the foreign ministers meetings in Washington. Meetings on the Hill and with top ranking officials, including Secretary of State and Defense, focused on continuing support for India’s Covid-19 crisis, collaboration in Indo Pacific and Quad, the continuing India-China border situation, and Afghanistan,” said Aparna Pande, Director, Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, Hudson Institute.
‘Common understanding on China’
According to one of the sources ThePrint spoke to, the issue of ongoing border standoff with China and India’s focus on the Indo-Pacific region came up during Jaishankar’s meeting with Blinken, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and others as both sides reiterated their “common understanding” on China and its rise.
“Jaishankar’s US visit this past week to meet with senior Biden administration officials appears to have been quite successful for both countries. For India, Jaishankar likely received reassurances that the US continues to support India along the disputed land border with China. He also probably welcomed reaffirmed multilateral coordination against China within the context of Quad, of which India is a part,” Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst, RAND Corporation, told ThePrint.
Talking about China, the US State Department has said India and the US are becoming “increasingly likeminded” on issues concerning China and about its “problematic activities”.
The fact that the India-China border issue was discussed with Blinken came to light when the US Secretary of State tweeted about it.
Productive discussion today with @DrSJaishankar on regional security and economic priorities to include U.S. COVID-19 relief efforts, India-China border situation, and our support for Afghanistan. As friends, we will work together to address these areas of shared concern. pic.twitter.com/BtoGJTUGEr
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 28, 2021
‘India a key player in Afghanistan’
The issue of Afghanistan in the backdrop of US’ upcoming troops withdrawal from there in September also came up in a series of meetings that Jaishankar had with Blinken, Austin as well as with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
During a media briefing there, Jaishankar said there is a “recognition” in the US that India is “an important” part of the talks on Afghanistan.
“For the US, Jaishankar, as one of the primary architects of (Prime Minister) Modi’s multilateral alignment approach to foreign policy, likely provided insights on how New Delhi plans to balance external relationships going forward. There are many challenges on the table in this regard—for example India’s relationship with Russia and Iran— because of how those interactions may not comport with Western interests,” added Grossman.
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