India and the United States on Friday undertook a comprehensive review of their bilateral strategic and defence ties here with both the sides stressing the need for ensuring a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. It was in an apparent reference to China flexing its muscles in the region.
The entire spectrum of relations between India and the US was discussed during the fifth 2+2 ministerial dialogue with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar representing India. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin led the US delegation. The Ukraine conflict also figured during the dialogue, it was learnt.
In the backdrop of strained ties between India and Canada, New Delhi conveyed to the US its serious concerns over increasing activities of pro-Khalistani elements in Canada during the dialogue.
“We have made our concerns very very clear,” Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said at a media briefing after the 2+2 parleys.
“We have core security concerns and I am sure you are all aware of a recent video that has surfaced from one such individual,” he said, adding the US side understood New Delhi’s concerns.
The ties between India and Canada came under severe strain following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations in September over the killing of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June in the Canadian town of Surrey.
Days after Trudeau’s allegations, India temporarily suspended issuance of visas to Canadian citizens and asked Ottawa to downsize its diplomatic presence in the country to ensure parity.
Canada has already withdrawn 41 diplomats and their family members from India. India has already resumed some of the visa services.
The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas and ways to further deepen the India-US strategic partnership figured in talks between Jaishankar and Blinken.
A Jaishankar-Blinken bilateral meeting took place ahead of the ‘2+2’ defence. In a post on ‘X’, Jaishankar described his talks with his US counterpart as “open and productive”. “Pleased to meet with Secretary of State @SecBlinken this morning. An open and productive conversation on further developing our strategic partnership. Also spoke about West Asia, Indo-Pacific and other regional issues,” he said.
Similarly, Rajnath held a bilateral meeting with Austin and the two ministers comprehensively discussed a wide range of defence and strategic issues. There was particular focus on enhancing defence industrial cooperation and getting the defence industries from both sides together to cooperatively co-develop and co-produce defence systems.
Meanwhile, during the 2+2 dialogue, Rajnath said the partnership between the two nations is “critical for ensuring a free, open and rules-bound Indo-Pacific region.”
He said relations between the two countries have witnessed a growing convergence of strategic interests and enhanced defence, security, and intelligence cooperation adding defence remains one of the most important pillars of bilateral relationship.
“Your visit to India is at a time when India and the US are closer than ever before. In spite of various emerging geopolitical challenges, we need to keep our focus on important and long-term issues… We look forward to closely working with the US across the domains of capability and for partnerships which can address challenges,” he added.
Echoing his views, Blinken reiterated the significance of the region, saying, “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.”
“One significant way we are doing that is by enhancing maritime domain awareness, sharing commercial satellite data with countries in the region to boost their capacity, for example, to combat illegal phishing, piracy, and drug trafficking. We are also coordinating humanitarian relief and disaster response efforts in the Indo-Pacific….We are harnessing together the power of innovation to make our economies more resilient and to make our communities more secure while expanding inclusive economic opportunity.
That is evident in the cooperation on semiconductors and advanced biotechnology, on our unprecedented investments in deploying clean energy
at scale in our countries as well as across the region, and our joint research and exploration projects in space..,” Blinken added.
Underlining the importance of the 2+2 dialogue, Secretary of Defence Austin said it is “more important than ever that the world’s two largest democracies exchange views, find common goals, and deliver for our people.”
“We have made impressive gains in building our major defence partnership over the past year, and that will help us contribute even more together to the cause of peace and stability. We are integrating our industrial bases, strengthening our interoperability, and sharing cutting-edge technology.
The strength of our partnership is rooted in the people-to-people ties that are the heart of our long friendship together, our diplomats, entrepreneurs, and students are expanding our partnership in new domains, including clean energy, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors. Our increasingly strong ties give us all hope for the future of this partnership and for our common efforts toward a more secure world…” Austin said.