US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Ms. Alice Wells, and Deputy National Security Advisor Deputy Matthew Pottinger were in India to attend a series of bilateral meetings and take part in the 5th Raisina Dialogue. Ms. Wells’ visit to the sub-continent also included stops in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
In a significant riposte at the Raisina Dialogue, Mr. Matthew Pottinger said the Indo-Pacific is a “principled vision”. He described Indo-Pacific as “a community of countries that respects the rule of law, stands up for freedom of navigation in the seas and skies above, promotes open commerce, open thinking and above all, defends the sanctity of each nation’s sovereignty. So, it is free and open, does not exclude any nation, but does ask each nation to respect and promote those principles we hold in common. The US Deputy NSA added, countries that support the notion of a free and open Indo-Pacific are those that have citizen-centric visions, rather than regime-centric visions.
Apart from participating in the Dialogue, the visit of Assistant Secretary Wells is being viewed as a preliminary setting of the agenda for the possible India visit by President Trump in February 2020. If confirmed, the India trip would be President Trump’s first since he was voted to power in 2016. Prime Minister Modi and President Trump share a strong relationship, which was displayed during the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Texas in 2019.
India and the United States are exploring avenues to advance their strategic partnership and the visit of Ms. Wells is being viewed as one that is taking forward the discussions of the 2+2 dialogue held in December 2019 in Washington DC, in which a number of key agreements on defence and cooperation in the civilian sectors was agreed upon. The two countries signed the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) which will facilitate the exchange of classified military information between Indian and the U.S. defence industries. They also announce important progress under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). These measures are expected to provide momentum to collaboration between the private defence industries of both India and the US. The two sides also agreed to move forward in their engagement in the area of defence innovation.
Ms. Wells met with senior Indian government officials and members of civil society and discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues, including shared interests in a free and open Indo-Pacific region that fosters prosperity, democracy and justice. These discussions would build on the first ministerial level meeting of the member of the Quadrilateral (India, US, Japan & Australia “Quad”) in Washington DC in 2019. The meeting was a ‘significant elevation’ of the efforts of Australia, India, Japan and the United States to advance cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
The US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia also had an interaction with the Indian business community. The two nations have been in talks for a bilateral trade and investment agreement. The two nations continue to discuss differences in the agriculture and dairy sector as also in tariffs and subsidies provided to the domestic industries.
The India-US relations have changed in the past two decades, and there is no area in which the two nations are not working together. ‘Given the steady expansion of the bilateral partnership over the last two decades, the range of joint activities today is breathtaking: from frequent bilateral summits between the heads of government to regular senior-level dialogues, the US and India today engage in numerous strategic consultations, wide-ranging defence, counterterrorism, homeland security, cyber-security and intelligence cooperation, as well as myriad activities in energy, education, science and technology, public health and culture.
Script: Dr. Stuti Banerjee, Strategic Analyst On American Affairs