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Diplomacy or Direct Action in India-US Ties – What Will Blinken Tell Jaishankar?

Both are skilled diplomats but navigating a room with Russian Foreign Minister & China's Gang won’t be an easy ride.

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As G20 foreign ministers gather in New Delhi and debate a common platform in the shadow of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will have the burden of creating consensus or something close.

Both are skilled diplomats but navigating a room with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and China’s Qin Gang won’t be an easy ride for either. Blinken would definitely want strong condemnation of Russia, Jaishankar not so much given India’s walk on the fine line for legitimate (pragmatic) reasons. Both will work with the knowledge of each other’s compulsions and constraints.

A joint communique is unlikely and more likely is another “chair’s summary” complete with footnotes with caveats such as the one issued by G20 finance ministers last week which noted where most members stood and where Russia and China did not.
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The gulf between “a special military operation”— a term Russia uses for its invasion and “brutal war” —a term Western countries prefer — is too wide for even the most empowered linguist to fill.

Blinken understands Jaishankar’s dilemma and the delicate balancing act which would have exhausted a lesser foreign minister now that the war has entered its second year. He also appreciates India’s loud championing of the issues of food and energy security which disproportionately affect countries of the Global South, something the West had to be persuaded to recognise.

Snapshot
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will have the burden of creating consensus on Russia-Ukraine.

  • Blinken to discuss the newly launched US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies or iCET, arrangements for a possible Modi visit this summer.

  • As a group of democracies, the Quad countries want to maintain a “free and open” Indo-Pacific code for preventing Chinese dominance in the region.

  • India is among 40 countries whose air space has been violated by Chinese dirigibles in the past.

  • It could be argued that the Chinese glue has also dampened the US administration’s desire to raise uncomfortable questions about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s domestic agenda.

Blinken's Visit To Boost US-India Strategic Partnership

Since the G20 foreign ministers will be constrained by divisions and unable to move the needle towards a joint communique, New Delhi and Washington will engage in other formats, work on their bilateral agenda and do what can be done.

During his two-day visit, Blinken will discuss the newly launched US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies or iCET, arrangements for a possible Modi visit this summer, and participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of India, Japan, and Australia who together constitute the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad.

If all goes well, the four ministers will be on a panel at the annual Raisina Dialogue organised by the Observer Research Foundation with support from India’s foreign office. The ministers are expected to highlight the progress made in providing humanitarian aid, and vaccines, and improving security in the Indo-Pacific with new initiatives on maritime domain awareness. The maritime space needs constant monitoring of security threats, besides sharing data on illegal shipping, port activity, and trade flows.

As a group of democracies, the Quad countries want to maintain a “free and open” Indo-Pacific code for preventing Chinese dominance in the region. They offer an alternate model of development and existence compared to the Chinese template of dominance and dictation.

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In a preview of Blinken’s trip, a senior State Department official said India and the US will continue their “serious conversations on China” which include discussions on India’s neighbours who are burdened by Chinese debt-trap diplomacy.

There is little doubt that India-US strategic relations have grown closer as the challenge from China has increased. If India faces an aggressive China on its border with hundreds of thousands of troops deployed on the Himalayan heights, the US lives with constant Chinese attempts at military and industrial espionage.
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The FBI has close to 2,000 ongoing investigations into alleged Chinese activity in the US, according to Christopher Wray, the FBI director. FBI Director Wray says scale of Chinese spying in the U.S. 'blew me away'

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Will US-India Tie Up To Combat Chinese Belligerence?

The US recently shot down Chinese surveillance balloons found loitering over its territory, dismissing Beijing’s claims that they were collecting weather data and had strayed from their path. India is among 40 countries whose air space has been violated by Chinese dirigibles in the past, senior US officials recently said.

The convergence on the nature and scope of the threat from China and more importantly, India’s increasing willingness to openly partner with the US to counter Beijing may have had positive side effects from New Delhi’s point of view. For one, the bonding and effective diplomacy have helped mute open criticism of India’s neutral stand on Russia’s war.

Here's how Donald Lu, assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, described the state of play last week: “The Secretary (Blinken) has said India has had a long and complicated history with Russia going back to the Cold War days, that is a deep and sustained relationship over many decades.”

After putting things in context, he added, “It is our hope that India will use that influence with Russia to support an end to this conflict as Foreign Minister Jaishankar has said according to the principles of the UN charter: territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

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Will Russia-Ukraine Conflict Have an Intervention?

When asked how India’s dependence on Russian military hardware might look in the future, Lu declined to comment on the specifics but talked of Russia “having a difficult time fulfilling orders for military contracts.” Press reports in India show that Indian officials are also wondering whether Russia will be able to provide the essentials, he added for good measure.

It could be argued that the Chinese glue has also dampened the US administration’s desire to raise uncomfortable questions about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s domestic agenda which is perceived as anti-minority by many at home and abroad.
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Despite pressure from some members of the US Congress, the Biden Administration has shied away from criticising the Modi government except for making generic statements in support of the press and other freedoms associated with an open system.

In addition, US officials are enthusiastically supporting India’s G20 presidency with statements and sentiment.

(Seema Sirohi is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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