US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will hold talks with India this week that officials say will focus on security challenges in the Indo-Pacific and concerns about China, rather than the wars in Gaza and Ukraine.
The talks in New Delhi on Friday with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh are part of the so-called “2+2 Dialogue”, launched in 2018 to strengthen defense cooperation and align political goals in the region Indo-Pacific.
Officials said India’s diplomatic spat with Canada over the killing of a Canadian Sikh separatist leader is not expected to affect the dialogue, even though India has bowed to U.S. pressure to cooperate with Ottawa in the investigation into the killing.
US officials were moving quickly to deepen ties with India while pledging to support an investigation into June’s killing on Canadian soil, a US official familiar with Indo-Pacific policy said.
China and the wider Indo-Pacific will be the “central focal points”, said an Indian government official familiar with the agenda, adding that defense cooperation, including the joint development of defense equipment, will also be discussed.
The two countries are working on deals for the US to supply and manufacture engines for Indian fighter jets, MQ-9 predator drones and semiconductor manufacturing.
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Discussions will draw on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successful visit to Washington in June and President Joe Biden’s trip to New Delhi for the G20 summit in September, officials said.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The dialogue comes ahead of Biden’s expected meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco and Biden’s possible return to New Delhi for a visit in January.
Farwa Aamer, Director of South Asia Initiatives at the Asia Civil Society Institute, said the dialogue “has made remarkable progress, particularly in the area of defense cooperation”, where technology transfer and co-production were currently the focus.
India’s ties with the US have been steadily strengthened on many fronts and it has close strategic ties with Israel. But New Delhi has also carefully maintained long-standing ties with Russia and improved economic ties with oil and gas-producing countries in the Middle East.
Given these considerations, strategic discussions between Washington and New Delhi will not be shaped by the wars in Gaza and Ukraine or by India’s strained relationship with Canada, said Rick Rossow, an India expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“Our different approaches to the upcoming elections in Bangladesh, how we separately engage the junta in Myanmar, the new ‘pro-Chinese’ government in the Maldives and potential instability in Sri Lanka and Nepal” are of greater interest to India and are more closely linked directly with ties to the US, Rossow said.
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