TCSS Security Commentaries #020

Blinken’s visit to New Delhi deepens US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, sets high prospects for upcoming QUAD Summit

Veeresh Kanduri, MoFA Fellow, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a meeting in New Delhi on July 28 (Indian Press Information Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s visit to New Delhi on July 27-28 marks third high-ranking US official visit to India since President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January. Earlier, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin visited in March and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visited in April. While Secretary Blinken visiting New Delhi, Secretary Austin’s visit to Singapore, Vietnam and Philippines, informs amplified US’s diplomatic visits to strengthen cooperation and stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with allies and like-minded partners.

In addition, Secretary Blinken’s fourth in-person meeting with the Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in a span of three months establishes the fact that, as Secretary Blinken asserts, “(t)here are few relationships in the world that are more vital than the one between the United States and India.” The scale of diplomatic visits will serve as a tangible pointer to measure the strategic interests and convergences between two nations.

In his two-day state visit to New Delhi, Secretary Blinken met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. While Secretary Blinken’s meeting with NSA Doval attracts larger attention in the context of emerging security situation in Afghanistan following US withdrawal of troops, both India and the US divulged no official details and read-out.

The Tibetan factor re-emerged as a major focus in the US-India-China triangular strategic affairs with Secretary Blinken’s conspicuous meeting in New Delhi with Ngodup Dongchung, a representative of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the Dharamsala-based Tibetan exile government in India. The development is of great strategic interest to India as its comes after President Xi Jinping’s unannounced historic visit to Lhasa on July 21-23. The Blinken- Ngodup meeting declares President Biden’s commitment “(to) stand up for the people of Tibet”, which could further be reassured by appointing a special coordinator for Tibetan issues in the State Department.

While Secretary Blinken’s official engagement with Tibetan leader took a diplomatic umbrage from Beijing, the meeting also signals an evolving India’s Tibet policy. Any new Tibet policy installation will revoke a 2018 directive issued to Union and State government officials that advised all ministries and departments to forbid from attending any CTA events as well as establishing relations with CTA.  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s telephonic conversation with the Dalai Lama, declares a clear withdrawal from earlier approach, on his birthday on July 6 may serve as an evidence of the new beginnings of India’s evolving Tibet policy.   

According to Blinken and Jaishankar, in the last few years the bilateral cooperation vastly transformed with contemporary relevance as India-US interests are shared, concerns are similar, and convergences are strong. Besides, the scope and scale of core Blinken-Jaishankar meeting reflects the resilience and strength of the US-India relationship.

Both Blinken and Jaishankar plainly stated that the Quad – the group of four likeminded democracies including India, the US, Japan, and Australia – is not a military campaign aimed at any country, without mentioning China, but a force for good in defense of a rules-based Indo-Pacific order. Non-militaristic features of the Quad are evident in its decision to establish a joint “Quad Vaccine Partnership” to support the region with one billion Covid-19 vaccines, which is very likely to be launched at the upcoming Quad Summit in the US. Further, Indian EAM Jaishankar qualified his statement by likening India’s cooperation through Quad with India’s association with BRICS that involves China and Russia, which are two important strategic choices in India’s quest for strategic autonomy

The two leaders’ engagement focused heavily on strengthening US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, through US-India bilateral relations as well as through Quad. Following Blinken’s visit, India declared the annual Malabar Naval Exercises, including all Quad partners, are to be held in the end of August near Guam will be closely watched by Beijing, as it holds greater strategic significance. However, the joint press conference and read-outs found no consultations on alternative joint infrastructure and connectivity initiatives – not solely limited to Trump Administrations Blue Dot Network or Biden Administrations Build Back Better World – which is key to balance China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Against the backdrop of vast geopolitical developments and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region, the success coming out of Blinken’s visit to India sets high prospects for the upcoming first in-person Quad Summit in the US.