A slip over Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s comments regarding China at the Indo-US 2+2 ministerial meeting last Tuesday has led to a diplomatic commotion, and some red faces in New Delhi.
More so, because both defence minister and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar did not mention China directly in their remarks.
At the 2+2 meeting, Singh, speaking in Hindi, said: “Aaj ke samay mein jo challenges hum face kar rahe hain, unki wajah se hamari partnership aur bhi mahatwapurn ho jaati hai.”
The Indian government’s English language interpreter, reading from a script, said: “Excellencies, in the area of defence we are challenged by reckless aggression on our northern borders – (inaudible)”.
It is learnt that the Indian government changed its statement. While Singh read out the prepared remarks, the interpreter was not handed the revised script.
Realising that the two statements did not match, the Indian side, it is learnt, later pointed it out to the US.
Three days later, the US Department of State corrected the transcript to record: “Due to the challenges that we are facing today, our partnership has become even more important and it determines our future.”
But the US Department of Defense, as of Friday night, continued to retain: “Excellencies, in the area of defense we are challenged by reckless aggression on our northern borders – (inaudible).” And it added a footnote — [As delivered by Indian Government English-language interpreter.]
The Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, when asked on Thursday, had said, “I’m a bit surprised at this question. The video of this of these remarks are out in the public domain and I would ask you to look at it.”
The diplomatic kerfuffle was evident on Friday, as the US embassy spokesperson said, “The original U.S. transcript of the 2+2 opening statement was prepared from an audio recording of the Indian Government interpreter’s English-language delivery to US participants.”
The 2+2 meeting, being described as a success, saw Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark T Esper launching a sharply-worded attack on China.
The four ministers were addressing the media after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where they discussed several issues of “regional and global concern” on which they collaborate, including Covid-19 response, security and defence cooperation, and shared interests in a free and open Indo-Pacific, according to a US State Department statement.
While Pompeo said Indian and US leaders and citizens see with “increasing clarity” that the Communist Party of China (CCP) is “no friend to democracy and rule of law”, Esper targeted Beijing by flagging the “increasing aggression and destabilising activities by China”.
Singh and Jaishankar, however, did not name China but spoke of “respecting” and “upholding” the “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of all States, a reference to Beijing’s belligerence along the Line of Actual Control.