The Blinken-Jaishankar presser revealed the maturity in India-US ties

Published on Sep 28, 2022 09:17 AM IST

At their joint press appearance in Washington DC on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and external affairs minister S Jaishankar spoke about both the substance of ties at the moment and the potential that lies in the future

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and external affairs minister S Jaishankar shake hands during a news conference at the State Department in Washington. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and external affairs minister S Jaishankar shake hands during a news conference at the State Department in Washington. (Reuters)

Washington: When the American Secretary of State says that he “talks about everything” with his Indian counterpart, and the Indian foreign minister says that he sees the big jump in the relationship as being one where India and the United States (US) together try to shape the direction of the world and speaks of greater coordination between the two in South Asia, the maturing of the India-US relationship is hard to miss.

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At their joint press appearance in Washington DC on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and external affairs minister S Jaishankar spoke about both the substance of ties at the moment and the potential that lies in the future.

The synergy

Blinken, while talking about the relationship, began by saying how the bilateral relationship is “simply one of the most consequential” in the world. “It is vital to addressing virtually every global challenge that our people face, whether it’s health security, climate change, food security, upholding the free and open international order, to name just a few.”

He then went out to list both bilateral areas of cooperation—Blinken reaffirmed American support to India’s aspirations for a Security Council seat and promised support for its climate goals, among other measures—and the partnership under the Quad umbrella.

Just last week, Quad foreign ministers met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly — a meeting Blinken hosted just hours after his father’s death—and agreed on guidelines on humanitarian assistance and disaster response as well as on tackling ransomware attacks and cyber crimes together.

In his opening remarks, Jaishankar agreed and said that a large part of their deliberations were devoted to the strengthening of our bilateral relationship. “Most of you would readily understand that it has grown very significantly in scope and depth over the last few years. We engage each other across pretty much every domain, and the quality of our cooperation – as indeed of our conversations – have steadily improved.”

He said that the two had discussed “political coordination, working together in plurilateral and multilateral formats, and exchanging assessments and collaborating on important regional issues and global challenges”. In this regard, Jaishankar mentioned the two most pressing challenges of current times—the Ukraine conflict and the Indo-Pacific situation. He also spoke of the “trust and transparency” that the digital world required and the “trusted research” that emerging and critical technologies entailed—both areas of cooperation of the future.

Jaishankar highlighted the concerns of the global south said it was critical to mitigate the global economic volatility currently at play. Both sides were on the same page in terms of shared interest in resilient supply chains, but this would require both policy and practical decisions and India and the US were working on it.

Coordination in the region and beyond

But what was striking was the minister’s acknowledgement of the growing coordination with the US beyond the bilateral frame, across regional and global issues.

“India‑US cooperation is today visible across the length and breadth of the Indo-Pacific and perhaps even beyond. It has many facets and expresses itself in different ways. We particularly value closer coordination in the Indian subcontinent, where we perceive that our convergences are very strong.”

This is noteworthy for the simple reason that till recently, New Delhi was uncomfortable with discussing what it often considered affairs within the South Asian region with external interlocutors and saw it as a possible abridgement of its role. But as challenges in the region have increased, and the degree of strategic trust between Washington DC and Delhi have grown, there is more discussion and collaboration on how to approach challenges in South Asia — be it the economic crisis or strategic shifts in Sri Lanka, the political crisis in Myanmar, China’s role in Nepal, democratisation in Myanmar, or even the democratic process and Islamist challenge in Bangladesh.

Jaishankar saw more of this happening, for India was widening its international footprint. “There are many more regions where we will be intersecting with American interests. It is to our mutual benefit that this be a complementary process.”

Shaping the world, together

Later in the press interaction, the depth of exchanges between the two top leaders of both countries — who have known each other for years—came through.

When asked about the trajectory of the India-US relationship—on Sunday, the minister had said the change in ties was the biggest transformation of his professional career—Jaishankar said that today he saw the US as “very international, very much more open to engaging a country like India, which is actually thinking beyond traditional alliances, which has been very effective at finding common ground with potential or actual partners”. In this context, he mentioned Quad, acknowledging that it did not work 15 years ago but claiming that it was working well today.

Jaishankar said the relationship with the US now opened up a whole range of possibilities for both countries in the realm of security, technology or economy.

But there was another part to it. “I would say it’s been for us a very positive experience, a very encouraging one with a lot of promise, of working with the US to shape the direction of the world. I mean, to me that’s really the big jump which we have made, and I think the more we work together, the more we engage each other, I think many more possibilities will come. So, very frankly, that’s a long way of saying that I’m very bullish about that relationship.”

Blinken echoed the minister and said that no two countries had a “greater ability and, I think, opportunity and responsibility” to try to shape the future of this century than the US and India “as the world’s two largest democracies”.

“And what is very gratifying to me is the fact that in all of these meetings, in all of these conversations in this ongoing dialogue we have, we are thinking together and working together in ways that we haven’t before.”

India and US had differences, Blinken admitted, and they will continue to have so. “But it also means that because of the depth and quality of the dialogue we have, we talk about everything and work closely together on how we can advance the agenda that we have in common, which – as you have heard, I think, from both of us – extends to virtually every issue that is confronting our own citizens and people around the world.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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