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India will seek ‘reassurance’ on US Indo-Pacific focus, defense ties in ‘2+2’ talks amid China opening

Nature

The United States will push for stronger military and diplomatic ties with India at high-level talks on Friday, in what analysts see as an opportunity for New Delhi to seek “reassurance” that the Washington’s Indo-Pacific orientation remains intact despite its growing engagement with China.

Amid US involvement in conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet their Indian counterparts Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh for the fifth annual ministerial dialogue “2+2”, established in 2018 to strengthen ties between the United States and India.

“India would like assurance that the US agenda remains the same,” said Harsh Pant, professor of international relations at King’s College London.

“Bilaterally, the agenda will remain the same, but regionally – between the balance between two wars and the (increasing) engagement with Beijing – the question is whether the United States has the margin to necessary maneuver for a more robust response to China,” Pant added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Photo: AP

Analysts say Delhi will likely closely follow the growing engagement between the United States and China, with Blinken, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visiting Beijing in recent month.

Chinese and US officials met last week in Beijing to discuss the situation in the disputed South China and East China seas, while Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng began his five-day visit to the states on Wednesday. -United.

Next week, Chinese President Xi Jinping will make his first trip to the United States in five years when he visits the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, where he is expected to hold a summit with his American counterpart Joe Biden.

Amid intensified engagements, the 2+2 talks would also enable India to clarify Washington’s approach towards China, Pant said. While the US approach was aimed at “managing the conflict in the short term”, Pant said he believed “long-term strategic competition with Beijing” remained Washington’s priority.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and his US counterpart Joe Biden shake hands on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali on November 14. Xi and Biden are expected to hold a summit next week. Photo: AFP

“It’s not just about India…concerns could spill over to Australia and Japan about US bandwidth when it comes to the Indo-Pacific,” he added. “The 2+2 talks will become a mechanism to resolve or, at least, clarify some of these issues. »

Blinken sought Wednesday to allay fears that the United States is taking its eyes off the Indo-Pacific region.

“The Indo-Pacific is a critical region for our future,” he said at a news conference in Tokyo. “It is vitally important that, even though we face a real crisis in Gaza, in the Middle East, we are not only capable, but fully committed, to all the interests we have in India. Peaceful.”

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Biden, Modi hail new era of US-India relations, tout deals

Biden, Modi hail new era of US-India relations, tout deals

Safety on the agenda

Analysts say growing ties between the United States and China are unlikely to pose a problem during the 2+2 negotiations.

“2+2 conversations allow the United States and India to engage closely on issues of strategic importance, so episodic events and outcomes might matter, but they will not hinder not the ongoing discussions about security,” said Karthik Nachiappan, a researcher at the National University of Singapore. Institute of South Asian Studies.

Nachiappan pointed to last year’s 2+2 negotiations, during which US and Indian positions on Ukraine diverged – India refusing to condemn Russian actions and buying Russian crude oil cheaply, facing Western efforts to isolate Moscow.

This divergence “did not disrupt” the 2022 negotiations, Nachiappan said.

According to Aparna Pande, a researcher and director of the Future of India and South Asia Initiative at the Hudson Institute in Washington, the two sides should instead promote closer bilateral defense ties during negotiations on Friday.

‘Things are changing’: India, US strengthen defense ties with Russia, with China in mind

The two countries have already announced an agreement between the American company GE Aerospace and the Indian state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to produce F414 fighter jet engines in India. Delhi is also acquiring 31 MQ-9B armed drones, a deal likely valued at more than $3 billion.

In September, India and the United States held a “2+2 intersessional dialogue” between lower-ranking officials. Among the issues discussed were defense, security, clean energy and supply chain resilience, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense.

“They also discussed opportunities to further strengthen interoperability and logistics cooperation, including through combined maritime engagements in the Indian Ocean region, as well as expanded cooperation in the space and cyber domains” , adds the press release.

Pande said the two sides would seek to promote deeper cooperation in areas such as defence.

“Austin and Singh are likely to continue their ongoing discussions on ways to strengthen defense industrial cooperation, increase interoperability and expand innovation through the Indo-US Defense Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS- X),” she said, referring to the initiative launched in June. this year, to better connect the two governments, businesses and academic institutions in joint defense research and production.

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Soldiers in Russian-made T-90 tanks parade during a ceremony celebrating the 73rd Indian Army Day in New Delhi in January 2021. Photo: AFP

By encouraging stronger defense ties, Washington could also seek to reduce India’s overreliance on Russian weapons, Pande said.

According to a 2021 analysis by Stimson Center experts, 85% of India’s main weapons systems come from Russia.

Between 2018 and 2022, 45% of India’s weapons came from Russia, followed by France with 29% and the United States with just 11%, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Russian defense exports have, however, been hit since the war in Ukraine, with joint-stock arms export company Rosoboronexport recently saying it was giving “top priority” to “manufacturing and supplying products for Russia”. ‘Russian army’.

“For the United States, this is a unique opportunity to free India from its dependence on Russian equipment at a time when India is seeking to modernize its military and strengthen its industrial base. national defense,” Pande said.

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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. Photo: Xinhua via AP

Next year’s Quad summit could also feature on the 2+2 agenda, with India likely to focus on strengthening cooperation among the four members of the security pact following Australia’s strengthening ties and China.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese this week visited Beijing and met with Xi, becoming the first Australian leader to do so since 2016. Albanese said a strong bilateral relationship was “beneficial for the future” and invited Xi to visit Australia.

“Both sides will also take stock of contemporary regional issues and exchange views on common priorities for increasing cooperation in multilateral platforms and through frameworks such as Quad,” the Indian Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday. Foreign Affairs.

Pande, of the Hudson Institute, said the timing of the 2+2 talks was symbolic.

“The fact that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are coming to Delhi… at a time when the Biden administration is confronting both the Middle East crisis and the conflict in Ukraine demonstrates the critical nature of the Chinese threat to the United States. »

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