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2 Plus 2 Dialogue: Cementing India, US Ties (27 October 2020)

2+2 Dialogue: Cementing India, US Ties (27 October 2020)

Why in News:

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held the third edition of the 2+2 talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper.

Context:

Both sides were assisted by top military and security officials. The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) was signed during the dialogue. This allows both countries to share sensitive information regarding satellite and sensor data. Pompeo said after talks that the two countries had to work together to confront the threat China posed to security and freedom.

Background:

India-U.S. bilateral cooperation is broad-based and multi-sectoral, covering trade and investment, defence and security, education, science and technology, cyber security, high-technology, civil nuclear energy, space technology and applications, clean energy, environment, agriculture and health.

U.S. is India’s largest export destination; India is only the 13th largest for the U.S. due to “overly restrictive market access barriers”.

Summary of the Debate

Key Highlights of the 2+2 dialogue:

  • The joint statement is talking about India-Us bilateral ties and the regional and multilateral ties, the mention of the Indo-pacific is very prominent in this and about secure and safe sealed lanes of communication and a free open inclusive peaceful and prosperous Ind-Pacific.
  • There is also the mention of the central command. There is a difference between the construct of the Indo-Pacific as far as India sees it and the USA sees it. India sees the Indo-Pacific extending the coast of Africa, the USA has traditionally seen it up to the Bay of Bengal and not further west. Now, there will be cooperation between the central and African commands of the USA and India. The central command cooperation had started but Africa is something new.
  • The talk is also going about defence trade and there will be actual transfers of technology and constructions of defence platforms in India at joint ventures.
  • The Defence Minister in his statement did mention the AatmNirbhar Bharat and the External Affairs Minister in his individual statement is talking about ‘security becoming a very important component of the foreign policy dialogue between the two countries’.
  • The External Affairs Minister said the need for a multi-polar Asia-Pacific is as important as a need for a multi-polar world. He made it very clear that there can be no multi-polar world unless Asia-Pacific which is a very large component of the world is also multi-polar.

Major significance of the Talk:

  • It is a very comprehensive dialogue, it’s not just about the defence, it’s not just about the foreign affairs, it’s also about health, education, people-to-people contacts, the broad spectrums of ties.
  • The joint statement that was issued at the conclusion of the 2+2 talks, there is no mention of China in the joint statement but there is an implicit recognition of the situation that has arisen from China’s extremely expansionist and extremely aggressive posturing in its periphery and beyond and there are many things that the document talks about in that respect.
  • On the one hand, this is a step forward because this dialogue is the third in the series, on the other hand, there is a greater recognition and a greater urgency of the China’s threat emanating from China to not just India but to the entire region.

About 2+2 dialogue:

  • It is a format of dialogue where the defense and foreign ministers or secretaries meet with their counterparts from another country.
  • The new dialogue format was agreed between India and the US during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington D.C. in June 2017.
  • 2+2 Ministerial is the highest-level institutional mechanism between the two countries.
  • India holds such talks with Australia, at the foreign secretary and defense secretary level but with Japan and the US at the ministerial level.
  • US holds such ministerial dialogues with Australia and Japan also.
  • It replaced India-U.S. Strategic and Commercial Dialogue for trade and commercial issues.

Other Agreements signed by India:

  • India has signed three foundational agreements:
    • General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA)
    • The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)
    • Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)
  • In increasing military to military interactions, the U.S. has posted a liaison officer at the Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) meant to promote MDA.
  • There has been a sharp increase in India’s maritime interactions with the Quad countries on a bilateral basis centred around information sharing for improved Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Indian Ocean Region and Indo-Pacific.

India’s concern in USA election with regard to China:

  • Capitulate- Which India will not do.
  • Hedge- India will do with Biden if Biden comes to power as the President which means India will confront China and resist China where India’s core interests are being undermined but will cooperate where possible.
  • Balancing- The more likely scenario if President Trump is re-elected.

BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement)

  • BECA is only small part of the Indo-US defence cooperation. It is only an enabling agreement enabling the Americans to supply India with more information particularly maps, aeronautical, geospatial and imagery and that kind of data for which India would otherwise have to pay.
  • It is basically an agreement to supply geospatial information because more and more American hardware has come which utilizes their geospatial information, imagery, aeronautical, hydrological data and by law they cannot give it to India unless the enabling agreement is there.
  • They are willing to give it to India free but they wanted this agreement which has now been signed and it has figured in the joint statement.
  • This is the last of the enabling agreements which has been signed. It started with the Information Exchange Agreement, then the Logistics Agreement, then the Communications Agreement and now this BECA for geospatial.

Challenges:

  • Trade: There are issues which remain with regard to trade, the tariffs imposed by the Trump government has not been removed.
    • In June 2019, the Trump administration decided to terminate India’s benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, which provides preferential, duty-free access for over $6 billion worth of products exported from this country to the US.
  • Geopolitical: India had problems in the past for example the maximum pressure campaign of the USA on Iran under Trump administration really limited India’s expansion through the Chabahar Port and link up with Central Asia.
  • Pakistan: US has softened its position on Pakistan in the last seven months, due to the role Pakistan can play in the Afghan deal.

Way Forward:

  • India need to engage in all areas not just in foreign policy, but also in hard areas like security and defence.
  • India and Japan have the partnership for Quality Infrastructure which need to be strengthen.
  • India cannot take on China, Pakistan and other belligerent countries who are backing them until India have the support from the Americans and now the Americans are willing to provide that support, India must take maximum advantage out of it.
  • Whether it is Joe Biden administration or Donald Trump administration, the foundational support for India is very high in the American public opinion as well as in the Congress and in these strategic establishment.

Important points made by the Guests

Jitendra Nath Misra, Former Ambassador

  • The construct of the Indo-Pacific is now getting more and more flesh and blood.
  • It’s not just India, it’s Australia, Vietnam, Philippines, Hongkong, Taiwan, Europe including the United Kingdom is talking of the Indo-Pacific.
  • The entire world is coming to recognize that the rise of China which was supposed to be peaceful and benign is not the case.
  • Therefore, this dialogue is conceptually, geographically and strategically a major breakthrough.
  • There was a space when Deng Xiaoping met Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi when he went to China in 1980s. He spoke about an Asian century that includes specifically India and China but today the Asian century is only a Chinese century and even the world is largely a Chinese world as the Chinese see it.

Sreeram Chaulia, Foreign Affairs Expert

  • Trump administration awoke to the China threat a little late. Until 2019, they were more interested in trade deal. Now after the corona virus started, they are on almost offensive now.
  • Defence Minister Rajnath Singh mentioned that now the US navy going to have a liaison person on the IFC (International fusion centre) of the Indian Ocean region that India have established recently to share information about all sea based maritime incidents and events.
  • PLA navy is encroaching and trying to grab more and more strategic space in the maritime water.
  • While India have a threat at the LAC on the land side, there is a long problem on the water because China is more vulnerable there because of the Malacca straits.
  • India is now preparing for long kind of resistant to Chinese pressure and trying to apply counter balancing pressure.

Maj Gen Ravi Arora (Retd.), Defence Analyst

  • India can utilize that data which USA are willing to give free,  for India’s own cruise missiles, for precision guided munitions which needs such data.
  • Joint statement talks lot about joint exercises, military to military cooperation.
  • The biggest tangible indication of defence cooperation is defence sales, this is where American interest lies, this is where India’s interest lies.
  • Since 2008, when there was negligible defence sales, today, the Americans have sold $ 20 billion worth of hardware and just in the last one year, India got $ 3.8 billion worth of hardware that includes the MH-60 Romeo helicopters, the Apache helicopters and some large aircraft infrared countermeasures.
  • India has been designated as a major defence partner and equal to a NATO ally, the legislation is going through, but now with this joint statement USA has also declared that there will be a military cooperation group. It is now possible to do that because all the agreements are in place which will review military cooperation every year.

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