New Delhi: Ahead of the American presidential elections, India and the US will hold the third round of 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue Tuesday as both look at expanding the strategic ties to achieve “shared diplomatic and security objectives”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, will arrive in New Delhi Monday for a two-day visit to meet their Indian counterparts External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
On Monday, the ministers will have their respective bilateral meetings.
The ministers are visiting India in person even as the 3 November US presidential elections are just a week away.
Pompeo will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hold discussions with other government and business leaders on ways to advance the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, according to a statement issued by the US State Department.
The 2+2 meet is being held at a time when India and China have been locked in a fierce border standoff for five straight months.
Discussions on China and ways to deal with Beijing’s increasing assertion will feature prominently in the talks as both New Delhi and Washington aim to create resilient supply chain networks owing to the coronavirus pandemic, thereby lessening their dependence on China, Indian diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
“The United States and India have a strong and growing bilateral relationship built on shared values and a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The growth in the partnership reflects a deepening strategic convergence on a range of issues,” the State Department said.
“Holding the third U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in just over two years demonstrates high-level commitment to our shared diplomatic and security objectives,” it said.
‘Quad an effective multilateral mechanism’
The US and India have now engaged more deeply under the Quad setup, which also includes Japan and Australia.
These countries will soon be holding a joint naval drill under Malabar 2020 next month, empowering the Quad in an unprecedented manner and sending a strong signal to China.
Pompeo and Jaishankar had met during the Quad, and also separately earlier this month in Tokyo.
“The recent Quadrilateral Ministerial meeting in Tokyo convened by Secretary Pompeo and his counterparts from India, Japan, and Australia, demonstrated the strong cooperative ties among Indo-Pacific democracies interested in strengthening a rules-based order in which all nations are sovereign, strong, and prosperous,” the State Department said.
China has vehemently criticised the Quad meet, and also expressed its severe discontent over the expansion of the Malabar naval exercise.
Arun Kumar Singh, veteran diplomat and former Indian ambassador to the US, said the scheduling of this 2+2 meeting “in person” despite Covid restrictions, and just a week before the US elections, shows the value Washington attaches to this relationship, with a broad bipartisan support for it.
“China is well aware what is happening around and they know countries are firming up their own strategies to deal with their growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas, Taiwan Straits, along the LAC with India and their abrasive ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy,” said Singh.
“EU has declared China a ‘systemic rival’, even Germany, otherwise focussed on trade with China, has come out with an Indo-Pacific strategy. NATO Secretary General has talked of an Agenda 2030 where they would also look at the challenge in the Indo-Pacific,” he added.
BECA to be signed
As the US and India aim at taking their defence and security ties to the next level, both sides are now geared up to sign the last of the three US defence foundational pacts — Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).
“We are expanding cooperation between our two militaries. This includes our navies, which play a critical role in ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific,” said the US State Department.
In July 2020, the Indian Navy successfully completed a passing exercise with the US Navy as the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group transited through the Indian Ocean Region. Last year, the US and India held their first-ever tri-service exercise — Tiger Triumph — in which the US Navy and Marines, Air Force, and Army participated in a bilateral exercise with their Indian counterparts.
Defence trade between the two nations has increased significantly over the past two decades. India maintains the largest fleets of C-17 and P-8 aircraft outside of the US. As of 2020, the latter has authorised more than $20 billion in defence sales to New Delhi.
“The defence relationship has grown phenomenally over the years. There have been defence purchases worth $20 billion in last 10 years. There are more and more, and increasingly complex military exercises, including tri-service ones. But in terms of technology partnership and supply chain relationship more needs to be done,” said Singh.