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Tokyo to New Delhi: Jaishankar and Pompeo to Meet Again Later This Month as China Threat Looms Large

EAM S Jaishankar meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Tokyo. (File photo)

EAM S Jaishankar meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Tokyo. (File photo)

Two meetings in a span of 20 days and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelling half way across the globe both times during a pandemic for an in-person engagement gives a sense of urgency of discussion, especially with regards to the China issue.

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Maha Siddiqui

After a bilateral meeting in Tokyo between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the two are set to meet again in New Delhi later this month. The two will meet in the last week of October as Pompeo travels to New Delhi for the 2+2 dialogue.

Two meetings in a span of 20 days and Pompeo travelling half way across the globe both times during a pandemic for an in-person engagement gives a sense of urgency of discussion, especially with regards to at least one issue.

China has emerged as a fulcrum between India and US under the current circumstances. While India has been dealing with the Line of Actual Control (LAC) friction for the last five months, China has been made an election issue by US President Donald Trump after the ongoing trade war leading to a full-blown diplomatic tussle during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Indo-Pacific strategy, too, is quite clearly evolving between the Quad countries keeping China at the centre of it all. If there was any doubt left, that was put to rest by a senior US State Department official who briefed the media after the ministerial meeting of the Quad in Tokyo. "There's no avoiding the fact that it is China and its actions in the region that make the Quad actually matter and function this time around," said the official.

On the sidelines of the Quad engagement was when Jaishankar also held a bilateral meeting with Pompeo in Tokyo. While the Indian press release just made a mention of the meeting having taken place amidst other engagements, the US State Department put out a separate press statement. It said that the two "asserted the need to work together to advance peace, prosperity, and security in the Indo-Pacific and around the globe".

Since the Trump administration took over, trade issues between India and US have dominated the engagement between the two sides. Trump's tirade against India over what he believed were unfair tariffs took over the discourse. Issues related to sanctions on Iran and reducing oil imports to zero from Tehran, terrorism emanating from Pakistan, waiver on CAATSA sanctions on Russia and defence equipment purchases as well as the Afghan peace process figured in discussions over the last few years. However, China's aggression this time is likely to be the dominant theme.

The US has been alluding to the LAC situation as well in various briefings to press the point about the dangers the Chinese Communist Party's moves pose in the region. The US State Department official also said, "I mean, if you look at the conflict in the Himalayas between China and India, something that has been in the past handled according to unspoken or unwritten rules in the past to prevent these things from getting out of control, and then you look at what happened here recently, where you've got actually people beating each other to death – no. We – it’s not – I mean, if you look at the single thing that’s driving all this, it’s a sudden turn toward gross aggression by the Chinese government in its entire periphery."

Pompeo's India visit will come just a week ahead of the US presidential election on November 3. The fact that despite the pandemic the Americans have chosen not to have a virtual engagement and travel for the 2+2 dialogue is also a reflection of perhaps their curiosity to access the situation more closely. A senior US official recently told News18.com that they are keeping a close watch on the situation as both sides make contesting claims. So, even though it appears that the anti-China narrative suits the US right now, they still want to make their own assessment sitting across the table in New Delhi.


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