Ahead of US defence secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to India this week, the Indian ambassador to the United States TS Sandhu said his trip, the first by a senior cabinet minister under Joe Biden’s presidency, hints at the significance of the ties between the two countries. “This visit is a reflection of the importance which the US accords to India and the importance of our bilateral relationship,” he told news agency ANI.
During his three-day India trip starting March 19, Austin will hold talks with defence minister Rajnath Singh and other senior government officials. Austin will “discuss deepening the US-India Major Defense Partnership and advancing cooperation between our countries for a free, prosperous, and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region,” according to the defence department.
Austin will reach India next week after visiting Japan and South Korea. His first trip overseas after taking office to the Indo-Pacific points to the importance the Biden administration is according to the region. He began the tour on March 13 with a visit to the US Indo-Pacific command headquarters in Hawaii. Last Saturday, Austin said he was travelling to Asia to boost military cooperation with American allies and foster “credible deterrence” against China.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Biden met virtually during the Quad summit on Friday.
During the virtual summit, the four leaders pledged to hold an in-person meet by the end of this year. “The desire was to have an in-person summit but due to the pandemic, it wasn’t possible. You have seen in the joint statement, there’s a clear indication that foreign ministers will meet, and by the year end, all four leaders have pledged to have an in-person summit,” Sandhu told ANI.
The Quad leaders launched an initiative under which India will produce up to one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by 2022, which will be funded by the US and Japan, to carry out last-mile distribution by Australia in the South-East Asian nations of the Indo-Pacific.
Speaking about the success of the event, Sandhu said, “You have to just see public viewing of the first 5 minutes and I think you can see. The general atmosphere was very good amongst all leaders.” The envoy, according to ANI, also hailed the bilateral ties between India and the US, saying the relationship is much deeper, which very much reflected in the equation between PM Modi and President Biden during the summit.
The envoy also spoke about the relationship that Modi and Biden have shared in the past years. “You will recall in 2014 and 2016, the equation between PM Modi and the then VP Biden was extremely good. Not only at the lunch he hosted in 2014 but also in the 2016 session of Congress where the then vice president Biden presided,” he told ANI. In the joint statement, the four leaders have termed the Quad as a “flexible group of like-minded partners dedicated to advancing a common vision and to ensuring peace and prosperity,” adding that they were a group of democratic nations dedicated to delivering results through practical cooperation.