NEW DELHI: Chinese aggression and solutions for Covid-19, apart from some crucial agreements, will be on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s agenda when they commence their two-day India visit for the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue on Monday.
The meeting also comes days ahead of the US Presidential election on November 3 and US President’s Donald Trump’s top security officials are expected to push the US administration’s anti-China message.
As a part of the visit, Pompeo and Esper will hold meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
A host of crucial bilateral, regional and global issues including China's efforts to expand influence in the Indo-Pacific region as well as its aggressive behaviour in eastern Ladakh is likely to figure in the talks.
Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will represent India in the 2+2 dialogue, to be held on Tuesday.
In the last few months, the US has been ramping up attack on China over a range of contentious issues including the border row with India, its military assertiveness in the South China Sea and the way Beijing handled the anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Last week, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the talks will entail a comprehensive discussion on cross-cutting bilateral issues as well as deliberations on regional and global developments.
“The upcoming 2+2 will be another significant high-level bilateral meeting focusing on regional cooperation which means common priorities like a free and open Indo-Pacific, maritime security, and freedom of navigation of the seas, are going to be on the table with a focus on countering Chinese efforts in the region without treading upon issues of bilateral nature between India and China. Defense information sharing will be another important theme as the United States and India are likely to sign the last of their foundational agreements - the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or BECA which will provide India access to US geospatial maps. The two sides are also said to likely sign the maritime information sharing technical arrangement or MISTA which will enable increased maritime and naval intelligence sharing. Thus, these two key agreements along with several others will likely be concluded. Another important theme will be military-to-military interactions and defence trade with our two countries likely making strides in finalizing arrangements for increased military interactions and defense sales,” Kriti Upadhayay, a research scholar at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said.
Apart from the canvassing for Trump’s anti-China stand, the two countries are likely to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation during the meeting.
The agreement, once signed, will give India access to US satellite data for navigation and also for precision military targets.
The meeting is also likely to feature discussions on the coronavirus pandemic and also on the Indo-Pacific grouping.
Even as Trump has played up his friendship with Modi during his election campaign, his remarks on Friday that India’s air is filthy have ruffled some feathers.
Whether or not the comment casts a shadow on the talks remains to be seen. Pompeo and Esper will travel to Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia on their return journey.
The duo is expected to discuss growing assertiveness of Beijing in the South China Sea during their visit to the countries.
The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years.
In June 2016, the US had designated India a "Major Defence Partner" intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.
The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provides for deeper cooperation.
The two countries signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.
The first edition of the two-plus-two dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump.
The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year.
The new framework of the ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.
(With PTI Inputs)