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US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun began a three-day visit to India on Monday. Reuters
US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun began a three-day visit to India on Monday. Reuters

Talks on supply chains, China on agenda of US dy secy of state

  • Biegun’s discussions with foreign secretary Harsh Shringla will likely pave the way for ‘2+2’ India-US talks

Talks on establishing resilient supply chains in a post covid-19 world, dealing with the rise of China, and finding ways to deepen bilateral ties—including the signing of a strategic pact to share geospatial defence intelligence—are on the agenda of US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun, who began a three-day visit to India on Monday.

Biegun’s visit is seen as important as the discussions with India’s foreign secretary Harsh Shringla on Tuesday are expected to pave the way for “2+2" defence and foreign ministerial talks between India and the US—the last major engagement between the two countries before the 3 November presidential polls in the US.

Speculation is rife that US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and US secretary of defence Mark Esper will attend the “2+2" in person in New Delhi on 26-27 October. This is the third dialogue in the “2+2" format that was established after US president Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

“Pleased to meet US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun. Useful exchange of views on world politics and regional issues. Appreciated the steady progress of our bilateral cooperation. Confident that our Strategic Partnership would continue to deepen," said India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar in a Twitter post on Monday.

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 “foundational agreement" to be signed between India and US after pacts initialled in 2002 (to safeguard shared military information), 2016 (sharing of logistics), and 2018 (a secure-communication pact).

The agreements are measures of how far the ties between India and US have progressed in the past two-and-a-half decades.

Biegun’s visit comes exactly a week after the foreign ministers of India, US, Japan and Australia met in Tokyo—an in-person meeting that underlined the importance attached to the “Quad" format.

The grouping of the four democracies is seen as a counterweight to a rising China that is flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea, East China Sea, Taiwan Straits and the northern border with India.

The security of open navigational routes in the Indo-Pacific region and the resilience of supply chains were two common themes to recur in discussions of the Quad group that met on 6 October.

Both are in the context of China—one in the face of its aggressive rise and intimidatory tactics vis-a-vis its smaller neighbours and the second in the face of countries looking to cut reliance on supply chains based in China and diversify sources of components.

India-China tensions are also expected to figure in Biegun’s talks in New Delhi as well as in the “2+2" later this month. Esper and Pompeo have been in regular touch with their Indian counterparts defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar since 5 May when troops of India and China clashed on their border.

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