On his first visit to India, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken promises to deepen strategic engagement with India, especially with an eye on China. But he also delivers a message on human rights by meeting civil society groups
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during his India visit on Wednesday, expressed Biden administration’s intent to grow stronger bilateral ties with New Delhi and stressed on the importance of cooperation on various issues including COVID-19 and climate change. “We have seen over the last couple of decades that the relationship has grown stronger and deeper across multiple administrations in both countries. President Biden’s determination is to continue to grow stronger the relationship between India and the US,” Blinken said in his opening remarks ahead of his meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
Jaishankar, meanwhile, expressed confidence that Blinken’s visit will be productive and the quality of the discussions will fully reflect the strength of bilateral relations. “Our bilateral cooperation has vastly expanded in the last few years. Our interests are shared, our concerns are similar and our convergences are strong. Talks today will provide an updated direction to our colleagues to translate these into practical outcomes,” Jaishankar added.
The minister added that responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has added new facets to India-US cooperation, in an increasingly multipolar world. He added, “Peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific are as important for both of us as democratic stability in Afghanistan. Deepening the Quad as a qualitative platform is in our mutual interest and we must work together even more closely on key contemporary challenges like terrorism, climate change, pandemics and resilient supply chains.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday met Antony Blinken and welcomed President Joe Biden’s strong commitment to strengthening the India-US Strategic Partnership. In a tweet, PM Modi said, “Good to meet US Secretary of State @SecBlinken today. I welcome President Biden’s strong commitment to strengthen the India-US Strategic Partnership, which is anchored in our shared democratic values and is a force for global good.”
Addressing the joint conference with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar, the US top diplomat said that there are very few relationships in the world that are more vital than the one between India and the US. Blinken asserted that US President Joe Biden feels a “deep personal commitment” to making India-US ties as strong and as effective as it can be. Jaishankar and Blinken also discussed regional security issues including Afghanistan during the meeting.
The US delegation led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken was candid on all issues during his interaction with External Affairs S Jaishankar including COVID vaccines, China, Afghanistan, Indo-Pacific and global issues, sources said.
The Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said India was open to having a conversation on democracy and human rights as India’s record is stellar on both counts. There was no discord or upbraiding done by the US side with regard to India’s commitment to democracy and human rights, sources said. Blinken’s first meeting was with Indian civil society members. Referring to questions about democracy, civil society and comments at the joint press conference, the sources added there was no “lecturing” by the US side.
Blinken, in his remarks at the joint media interaction, said every democracy including the US was “a work in progress” and the quest of two counties is to “get closer to the ideals we set for ourselves” and while the challenge at times is painful and ugly “as democracies India and the US do it openly”.
He said the “shared values strengthen the US and India relationship”. “Like our own, India’s democracy is powered by its free-thinking citizens. We applaud that. We view Indian democracy as a force for good in defence of a free and open Indo-Pacific and free and open world,” he said.
Earlier, Blinken participated in a meeting of representatives of civil society organisations in the national capital and said the two nations share a commitment to democratic values. “I was pleased to meet civil society leaders today. The US and India share a commitment to democratic values; this is part of the bedrock of our relationship and reflective of India’s pluralistic society and history of harmony. Civil society helps advance these values,” Blinken tweeted.
While speaking about India’s human rights record, he said, “We talk about in our founding document, search for a more perfect union that means we’re not perfect. No democracy regardless of how large or old has it all figured out”. Blinken, who is on his maiden visit to India said, “We also recognise that every democracy, starting with our own is a work in progress and when we discuss these issues, I certainly do it from starting point of humility.”
When asked about ‘have you addressed the Indian Government’s backslide on issues like human rights, US Secretary of State Blinken said, “India and the US are two of the biggest democracies in the world. We talk about in our founding document, search for a more perfect union that means we’re not perfect. Our quest is to get closer to the ideals we set for ourselves. At times, the challenge is painful and ugly, but as democracies, we do it openly. No democracy regardless of how large/old has it all figured out.
“We have seen challenges faced by democracy in the past and it faces today, but this is common to all democracies. I mentioned this earlier, We talk about in our founding document, search for a more perfect union that means that we are not perfect. Our quest is to get closer to the ideals we set for ourselves,” Blinken said at the end of talks with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar in New Delhi.
Lauding Indian democracy, Blinken said that it is powered by free-thinking citizens. “Our shared values strengthen the US and India relationship. Like our own, India’s democracy is powered by its free-thinking citizens. We applaud that. We view Indian democracy as a force for good in defence of a free and open Indo-Pacific and a free and open world.
He also said that no democracy regardless of how old or large has it all figured out. “As friends (India and the US), we talk about these issues, we talk about challenges we face in renewing and strengthening our democracies. Humbly we can learn from each other. No democracy regardless of how old or large has it all figured out,” said Blinken.
Setting the tone of his India visit with a big political message to China, US top diplomat Antony Blinken on Wednesday met Tibetan Buddhist monk Geshe Dorji Damdul, current director of Tibet House in Delhi.
Damdul, the former interpreter of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, was a part of a group of civil society leaders who met US Secretary of State Blinken early in the day. Blinken is on a two-day visit to India. Damdul is a director of Tibet House, which was founded in 1965 by the Dalai Lama to preserve and disseminate the unique cultural heritage of Tibet.
The meet is expected to irk Beijing, which considers Tibet as an integral part of China. The meeting took place in the backdrop of strained Beijing and Washington ties.
The United States has been raising the issue of human rights violations in Tibet at various platforms.
Recently, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited China to meet Chinese officials. She raised concerns about human rights violations in Tibet, Hong Kong and Eastern Turkestan.
Last month, the US Senate had passed a bipartisan bill to heed the call to open a consulate in Lhasa and had called for reinforcing the global engagement on policy towards the reincarnation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In an interview, when asked about the China challenge, Blinken said: “For the United States, in a way as for India, it’s both one of the most consequential and most complicated relationships that we have. I think we have seen, unfortunately, the government in Beijing act more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad. In recent years, that posed a challenge for all of us. We see a relationship that is in parts adversarial, in parts competitive and also in parts cooperative. I think what we found is that the best, most effective way to engage China is working with other countries that are similarly situated, and that face similar challenges. India, of course, is a strong partner for the United States in this respect.”
Responding to a question if the era of cooperation with China is over, the secretary said: “No. I think the relationship has different elements in it. Cooperation remains one of them, because on some issues, its profoundly in our mutual interest to cooperate — climate may be the best example. That’s an issue that is important to all of us.”
The talks between India and the US over so many important issues is a sign of how this engagement will deepen but there will be some hiccups too.