By Arul Louis
Meeting under the storm clouds of China’s confrontation with India in Ladakh, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale have discussed the “ongoing threats” to the international order and agreed to “endeavour to support each other’s objectives”, the State Department said.
But the press release issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs after their virtual consultation on Tuesday was silent on these elements — discussions of threats and support to each other’s objectives as well as an agreement work with other Indo-Pacific partners.
The MEA said that the two diplomats, who held the US-India Foreign Office Consultations virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, also discussed visas for students and professionals, which have come under restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump. But the State Department statement was silent on the visas.
Shringla participating in the consultation from New Delhi and Hale from Washington agreed to work to strengthen the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, the US and Indian statements said.”The discussions included ongoing threats to the rules-based international order, bilateral and multilateral diplomatic cooperation, maritime security, and the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the State Department note on the consultation said.Hale and Shringla “agreed to consult closely on all challenges and endeavour to support each other’s objectives,” according to the State Department.
India’s election to a two-year term starting in January on United Nations Security Council also figured in their talks.
“They agreed on the need to deepen cooperation in the United Nations, especially during India’s membership of the United Nations Security Council,” the MEA said.
Washington has expressed support for India gaining a permanent seat on the Council.
With China acting aggressively in recent months across the broad swath of the Indo-Pacific, from Ladakh to the South China Sea, strategic interests figured in the talks.
Shringla and Hale “discussed US-India cooperation on a full range of international issues and developed concrete steps to strengthen the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership established by their leaders,” the State Department said.The partnership was laid out in February in a joint statement issued when Trump visited India and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
According to the Modi-Trump joint statement the partnership envisages greater defence and security cooperation, expanded joint military exercises and co-development and co-production of advanced defence equipment.The State Department said that Shringla and Hale “affirmed the US and Indian visions of a free and open Indo-Pacific region” and “agreed to work with other Indo-Pacific partners to bring these visions to reality”.
The MEA release spoke of reaffirming the commitment to “a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific” but was silent about other partners. The main partners are Japan and Australia, which together with India and the US form the Quad that promotes joint consultations and joint military exercises.Turning to the coronavirus pandemic that is roiling the world, Shringla and Hale stressed the cooperation between the two countries in pharmaceutical and vaccine development, which they said “will continue to play a critical role in the world’s recovery from Covid-19”, according to the State Department.
The State Department was silent on discussions of the contentious bilateral issues like visas and trade.
The MEA statement said Shringla and Hale “discussed ways to further enhance mutually beneficial trade and people-to-people ties, including through visa facilitation for students and professionals.”
On Monday the Trump administration ordered that foreign students who do only online courses will not be eligible for visas and this may affect a large proportion of the 202,000 Indians at US institutions of higher learning.
Last month, he suspended the issuance of most categories of H1-B visas issued to professionals citing the high unemployment caused by the economic shutdown resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indians usually get about 70 per cent of the H1-B visas.
New Delhi and Washington are embroiled in trade disputes and a long-expected trade deal is on hold, while the US has scrapped the General Scheme of Preferences that gave concessional terms for some imports from India worth $6.3 billion.
(Arul Louis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)