US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to arrive in India for a two-day visit on July 27. (AP/File)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his first visit to India, is set to discuss a range of issues, including bilateral ties, the Quad meet to be held later this year, and human rights. He’s scheduled to arrive in New Delhi tomorrow, July 27, and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Blinken is the third US official to visit India this year, after US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. Here’s a look at some of the issues on agenda:
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs in the US administration, Dean Thompson, at a briefing on Saturday morning stated that Blinken will raise issues of human rights and democracy on his two-day visit.
“With respect to the human rights and democracy question, yes, you’re right; I will tell you that we will raise it, and we will continue that conversation, because we firmly believe that we have more values in common on those fronts than we don’t. And we believe India is going to be a really important part of continuing those conversations and building strong efforts on those fronts in partnership as we go forward,” Thompson said.
In response, sources in the Indian government have said that “issues such as human rights and democracy are universal and extend beyond a particular national or cultural perspective”, and that “India is proud of its achievements in both domains and is always glad to share experiences”.
“As a long-standing pluralistic society, India is open to engaging those who now recognise the value of diversity,” sources said on Sunday.
Thompson also reminded that in the virtual Quad summit hosted by US President Joe Biden earlier this year, the leaders had agreed “on a shared vision for the region…anchored by democratic values and respect for human rights…”
Earlier, another member of Biden’s administration, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin, had visited Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in March and discussed human rights. Government sources had told The Sunday Express that the human rights situation came up only as “shared values”, and not about the situation in the country with any Indian interlocutor.
News agency PTI reported that the developments in Afghanistan will also feature in the talks with the US Secretary. “On the regional security situation, implications of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and the need for sustained pressure on Pakistan on terror financing and terror havens will be part of the agenda,” a source was quoted as saying by PTI.
Thompson, too, stated in the briefing that US intended to discuss its “efforts to support a just and durable peace in Afghanistan,” and called India, “a critical partner in the region”, welcoming its shared commitment towards development in the war-fraught country. “All of Afghanistan’s neighbours and countries in the region have an interest in a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan, which can only be accomplished through a negotiated political settlement that brings an end to 40 years of conflict,” he said.
Blinken is also expected to lay the groundwork of the Quad summit and the annual US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue to be held later this year. The Quad meetings with the leaders of Japan, India, US and Australia are seen as a coalition against the growing influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region. In the last meeting, the four nations had pledged to promote a “free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”
“Our bilateral discussions with our Indian partners will focus on expanding our security, defence, cyber and counter-terrorism cooperation” Thompson said.
Sources have also said that India will discuss the resumption of international travel in view of the coronavirus pandemic, “especially easing mobility of students, professionals, business travellers, family reunions, humanitarian cases.” India will press for open and consistent supply chains for materials required to produce Covid vaccines, among other medicines and equipment.
The talks will also “take forward Quad vaccine initiative to enable supply of vaccines produced in India from early 2022, to countries in Indo-Pacific region”. The Quad vaccine initiative was earlier scheduled to be launched at the end of 2022, and efforts are now underway to advance it by the end of this year or early next year.
PTI reported that according to sources, climate change will also figure in the conversation, given the US-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership. “Climate change remains an important area of the conversation, particularly the potential for green collaborations as well as climate finance and transfer of clean technologies to developing countries,” the sources said.
Earlier, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry had visited India in April and had held discussions with PM Modi and Environment Minister over net zero carbon emissions.
Apart from these, Blinken’s visit will focus on numerous issues important for the bilateral ties as well as regional and global development. Blinken’s visit reciprocates the visit by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to the US in May.