IN-DEPTH: Amid New Geopolitical Cauldron, Annual US–India Talks Highlight ‘Shared Global Agenda’

2+2 dialogue reaffirmed a ’shared vision' for close partnership in the Indo-Pacific and on global issues. The meeting’s timing was significant, experts say.
IN-DEPTH: Amid New Geopolitical Cauldron, Annual US–India Talks Highlight ‘Shared Global Agenda’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2L), India's External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (R), US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L), and his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh arrive for a photo ahead of their bilateral meetings, at Sushma Swaraj Bhavan, in New Delhi, on November 10, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/ AFP)
Venus Upadhayaya
11/12/2023
Updated:
11/12/2023
0:00

NEW DELHI–U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in New Delhi on November 9 for the fifth 2+2 India–United States Ministerial Dialogue on Friday.

The annual meetings between India and the United States have been held since 2018, to discuss common issues of concern with the goal of bolstering ties between the two countries.

The two leaders met with their respective counterparts: India’s External Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and India’s Defense Minister, Rajnath Singh. Later in the day, Mr. Blinken met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well.

“We’re meeting at a time of great momentum in the United States and India partnership,” Mr. Austin said during morning remarks made along with the other leaders.

“In the face of urgent global challenges, it’s more important than ever that the world’s two largest democracies exchange views, find common goals, and deliver for our people.”

Experts told The Epoch Times that the timing of the 2023 meeting was very significant. The Israeli–Hamas war and Ukraine conflict continue; threats to Taiwan increase daily; Chinese build-up in the Indo-Pacific is alarming, and the United States is being pushed to handle strategic pressures simultaneously on multiple fronts. It is therefore seeking support from various allies and partners to share its security burdens.

After Mr. Blinken’s meeting with Mr. Modi, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the two leaders’ meeting reaffirmed a “shared vision” for close partnership in the Indo-Pacific and on issues of global importance. The word “shared” was repeated seven times in the five releases by the State Department after Friday’s meeting.

“They emphasized working together to address ongoing crises such as Russia’s war against Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East,” said Mr. Miller.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India welcomes U.S. President Joe Biden for the G20 Leaders' Summit on September 9, 2023 in New Delhi, Delhi. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India welcomes U.S. President Joe Biden for the G20 Leaders' Summit on September 9, 2023 in New Delhi, Delhi. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

India’s Role in US Grand Strategy

The potential of the India and United States partnership was demonstrated by Mr. Modi’s visit to the United States in June and President Biden’s trip to India for the G20 summit in September. Mr. Jaishankar said that the timing of the 2+2 meetings after the two constructive visits helped foster what he called “a forward-looking partnership” with a “shared global agenda.”

Harsh V. Pant is Vice President of Studies and Foreign Policy at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, and a professor of international relations at King’s College, London.  Mr. Pant told The Epoch Times that the trajectory of the United States–India engagement “shows no signs of abating” despite many geo-political crises.

“This partnership is going to be critical in shaping the dynamics today and in the coming years,” he said, adding that the 2+2 dialogue underscores how solidly established the relationship has become for the two countries and how this has aided their partnership despite multiple domestic and global challenges.

Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times that India’s role in U.S. global strategy is three-tiered. This is reflected in the current 2+2 dialogue as well.

The three tiers include the need for India to check a growing Chinese influence, an Indian response to the Taiwan crisis and the wider Indo-Pacific region, including the Indian Ocean, and finally, an Indian response to the Middle East situation.

“It is wise for the U.S. to ask its allies and partners to share the security burden. The U.S. will ask NATO, Quad, and other regional allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific to raise their defense budgets and share more of a security role. Because India is raising resources, the potential is big,” said Mr. Nagao, who is based in Tokyo.

However, although there is surface “bonhomie and progress,” the talks may have been negatively impacted by divisions within the Democratic Party regarding the United States’ India policy, according to Rahul Sur, an expert on the Middle East and African affairs.

Mr. Sur is a former Chief of Peacekeeping Evaluation in the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services.  He cited former President Barack Obama’s June interview with CNN, in which Mr. Obama said India may “pull apart” over minority rights. Mr. Sur deemed the conversation “superfluous advice to India.”

“Elections are approaching in both countries and internally, in the U.S., the Democratic party is riven by serious divisions as to how to handle the Middle East in terms of its support to Israel and countervailing pressures that want the U.S. to favor the Palestinians,” Mr. Sur said.

Chinese research and survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 arrives at Hambantota port on Aug. 16, 2022, despite concerns from India and the United States about its activities. (Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP)
Chinese research and survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 arrives at Hambantota port on Aug. 16, 2022, despite concerns from India and the United States about its activities. (Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP)

Stability in the Indo-Pacific

A key focus of Friday’s discussions in New Delhi was the Indo-Pacific. Experts outlined how the Indo-United States partnership in the region is critical for security as well as for strengthening democracy in the region.

“We are promoting a free and open, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific, including by strengthening our partnership through the Quad, with Japan and Australia,” said Mr. Blinken, calling the trip part of “an intensive period of American diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific.”

Ian Hall, an international relations professor at Griffith University Brisbane, told The Epoch Times that the recent 2+2 will be overshadowed by events in the Middle East.

“But an effort will be made to reiterate the importance of the U.S.–India relationship for the stability of the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Further, Mr. Hall believes that India’s upcoming national elections, to be held in mid-2024, as well as the 2024 presidential election in the United States, will prevent either side from openly airing controversial issues.

“But it is likely that the ongoing spat between Canada and India will be discussed, at least in private, between the two,” Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Nagao stressed that India is indispensable to the United States in the Indo-Pacific because it can secure the Indian Ocean.

“China is deploying survey ships in the Indian Ocean region. To deal with the issue, India is expanding [its] naval forces. The U.S. is providing military equipment such as P-8 anti-submarine patrol planes, anti-submarine helicopters which improve India’s anti-submarine capability,” said Mr. Nagao.

The United States is also planning to establish multiple naval logistics hubs in India, to be used for resupplying and maintenance of its naval vessels in the South Asian region, according to a June announcement.

Mr. Nagao said that if the United States has enough naval ships, it will likely plan the re-establishment of its 1st fleet in the Indian Ocean region.

Kaush Arha, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and at Purdue’s Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy, commented that India is more useful to the United States if it takes care of its “neighborhood”—the Indian Ocean.

“Indian Ocean islands [include] the Maldives, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Seychelles,” Mr. Arha told The Epoch Times. “There are clear national interests. There are converging interests and India can be the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean and in India’s neighborhood.”

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden, and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity at the Izumi Garden Gallery in Tokyo, on May 23, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden, and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity at the Izumi Garden Gallery in Tokyo, on May 23, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Joint Production and Investment, Gains in Defense Partnership

Experts also highlighted the potential of Indo-United States joint investment and joint production in various areas including defense and artificial intelligence.

Mr. Arha said that the focus is more on “U.S. investments in India and joint funding of AI-related start-ups in India. The same is about joint investments and joint productions in [the] military including in [the] space force,” Mr. Arha said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Austin highlighted the “impressive gains” achieved in defense partnership over the past year.“ That will help keep us—help us contribute even more together to the cause of peace and stability. We’re integrating our industrial bases, strengthening our interoperability, and sharing cutting-edge technology,” he said, adding the scope of the cooperation is vast, ranging “from sea bed to space.”

Mr. Nagao also discussed the possibility of India providing defense equipment to Taiwan.

“To deter China’s aggression, Taiwan needs their own defense power and India can provide defense equipment to Taiwan ...  If the tension in the India-China border increases, China [will not] be able to concentrate their resources against Taiwan,” Mr. Nagao said. “Thus, India’s role is important.”

Mr. Arha said that the United States wants India to stand up against the “totalitarian regimes.”

“The trends are all good,” he added.

Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
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