US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun began a three day visit to India on 12 October. According to the official statement the visit focused on advancing the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership and how the United States and India can work together to advance peace, prosperity, and security in the Indo-Pacific and around the globe. Mr. Biegun met senior government officials and deliver the keynote address at the India-U.S. Forum. The visit is an important precursor to the 2+2 ministerial level dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries later in the month in New Delhi, before the US presidential elections on 03 Nov. This is the third dialogue in the “2+2″ format that was established after President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.On the agenda of the “2+2″ talks is also the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) that will allow the US to share satellite and other sensor data with India to improve the Indian military’s targeting and navigation capabilities. This is the fourth so called “foundational agreement” to be signed between India and the US after pacts initialed in 2002 (to safeguard shared military information), 2016 (sharing of logistics) and 2018 (a secure-communication pact). The two nations have come together in a security partnership that assess the mutual interests of the two nations and how they intersect with each other. The partnership has evolved from political alignment on issues to defence and technology cooperation. The range of agreement between the two nations including in sensitive technology is testament to the deepening of the relations. The agenda is also likely to include the global pandemic and growing aggression by China on several fronts in Asia.
The visit by Mr. Biegun is also significant as it comes a week after the meeting of the four foreign ministers of Australia, India, Japan, and US meeting in Tokyo under the Quad format. The US has expressed a desire to formalise the grouping and build a counterweight to the growing Chinese aggression in the region. Apart from the security of open navigational routes in the Indo-Pacific, the visit is also with a view to looking at building alternative and resistant supply chains for US industries in the post Covid-19 situation.
The U.S.’ relationship with China is highly strained over bilateral trade issues, Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific and allegations over China’s public health response in the early days of the virus. The trade war between the two nations has led the US to look for alternatives to it’s over dependence on Chinese supply chains. This marries well into India’s policy of Atmanirbhar Bharat that is the development of a self-reliant but global manufacturing hub. The recent tensions India and China are also going to be discussed both during the Biegun visit and later in the 2+2 dialogue. Both Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Esper have been in constant touch with their Indian counterparts with respect to the border clash between India and China. Sustainable economic development is also an important agenda point in the discussions. The two nations are working together to address bilateral, regional and key global issues with a focus on the common vision of the two countries for the security of the Indo-Pacific region.
Response to the global pandemic is likely to have also been touched upon in the meetings. In March, India’s Foreign Secretary Shringla and Deputy US secretary of state Stephen Biegun along with other Quad countries began weekly calls, and this was later joined by other Indo-Pacific counterparts to discuss and coordinate efforts to combat the pandemic. Cooperation on Covid-19 is also on the agenda for Mr. Biegun’s visit to Bangladesh after India. It is significant that the U.S. is focusing on Bangladesh, a close neighbour of India after concluding a Defence Cooperation Agreement with the Maldives in September. This is part of a trend of the direct exchanges between the U.S. and smaller South Asian nations. India is also focused on its building stable and peaceful neighbourhood.
Script: Dr. Stuti Banerjee, Strategic Analyst on American Affairs