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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (AP)
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (AP)

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun begins three day visit to India

Biegun’s visit is seen as important as the discussions with Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla on Tuesday are expected to pave the way for the '2+2' defence and foreign ministerial talks between India and the US

NEW DELHI: Talks on establishing resilient supply chains in a post covid-19 world, dealing with the rise of China and ways to further deepen bilateral ties including the signing of a strategic pact to share geospatial defense intelligence are some of the issues on the agenda as US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun began a three day visit to India on Monday.

Biegun’s visit is seen as important as the discussions with Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla on Tuesday are expected to pave the way for the “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 Indian 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 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 pacts are a measure of how far India-US ties have progressed in the past two and a half decades – from being known as the “estranged" democracies to now being seen as “engaged democracies." Once seen as on opposite sides due their Cold War compulsions – the US backing Pakistan and India seen as siding with the former Soviet Union, relations between New Delhi and Washington are seen as close with regular contacts between top echelons of government and officials.

Biegun’s visit comes exactly a week after the foreign ministers of India,US,Japan and Australia met in Tokyo last week – 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 neighbors and the second in the face of countries looking to cut down 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 Jaishankar since 5 May when troops of India and China first clashed on their border.

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