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Blinken says he held productive meeting with Jaishankar; discussed COVID-19, India-China border situation and Afghanistan

PTI, May 29, 2021, 10:32 AM IST

Washington: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that he had a productive meeting with visiting External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during which they discussed the bilateral ties, COVID-19 relief efforts, India-China border situation and Afghanistan and vowed to work together to address areas of shared concern.

Jaishankar, the first Indian Cabinet minister to visit the US since Joe Biden became president on January 20, met Blinken on Friday.

“Blinken welcomed Jaishankar to the Department of State, where he reaffirmed the US administration’s commitment to deepening the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said after the meeting.

“Productive discussion today with Dr S Jaishankar on regional security and economic priorities to include US COVID-19 relief efforts, India-China border situation, and our support for Afghanistan,” Blinken said.

“As friends, we will work together to address these areas of shared concern,” Blinken said in a tweet, hours after the meeting with Jaishankar at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department.

It has been more than a year since the military standoff between India and China erupted in eastern Ladakh on May 5, 2020 during which there were fatalities on both sides for the first time in 45 years. They have made limited progress in achieving disengagement at the Pangong lake area while negotiations for similar steps at other friction points remained deadlocked.

In his tweet, Jaishankar said that he had a “productive discussion” with Blinken on various aspects of bilateral cooperation as well as regional and global issues.

“Covered the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, Afghanistan, Myanmar, UNSC matters and other international organisations,” he said.

“Also focused on Indo-US vaccine partnership aimed at expanding access and ensuring supply. Appreciated the strong solidarity expressed by the US at this time. Today”s talks have further solidified our strategic partnership and enlarged our agenda of cooperation,” Jaishankar said.

In an interaction with a group of Indian reporters, responding to a question, Jaishankar did not mention if China was discussed in particular.

“Our discussion was on the entire Indo-Pacific region. The discussion was on security issues in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China”s growing military manoeuvring and aggression in the region.

The Chinese military is also actively eying the strategic Indian Ocean region to step up Beijing”s influence.

China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.

In 2017, India, Australia, Japan and the US gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the ”Quad” or the Quadrilateral coalition to counter China”s aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific region.

Observing that the US is India’s strategic partner and has a strong relationship with it, Jaishankar said that it is but natural that the two countries discuss their challenges. The talks at the ministerial level are basically at an assessment level, he said.

The issue of S-400, a multi-billion-dollar missile system that Indian plans to buy from Russia, was not raised in any of the meetings, he said.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Dean Thompson said that there were just discussions of developments on the India-China border.

“I’m not going to characterise the discussions beyond that other than to say we continue to watch the situation very closely and hope that everything can be resolved peaceably as things go forward,” he said.

According to the State Department, the leaders discussed a broad range of issues, including COVID-19 relief, efforts to strengthen Indo-Pacific cooperation through the Quad, and a shared commitment to combating the climate crisis and enhancing multilateral cooperation, including at the UN Security Council.

“Blinken and Jaishankar also discussed regional developments, the coup in Burma (Myanmar) and continuing support for Afghanistan,” Price said, adding that the two leaders pledged to continue their cooperation on shared economic and regional security priorities.

Thompson earlier told reporters that the meeting demonstrated “our deep commitment to the partnership and to strengthening it in the years to come”.

“Today’s meeting between Blinken and Jaishankar, one of the first in-person visits that we have had in Washington since the beginning of the pandemic, showcased the breadth and depth of our relationship with India, which we view as one of the most important partnerships in the region and the world,” he said.

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